BEIJING — The United States and China both expressed determination yesterday to make headway toward a settlement in six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program.
Washington also assured North Korea that it has no intention of attacking, and Pyongyang promised to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, opening moves that also indicated a shared goal of progress.
The latest round of talks resumed in Beijing, the closest ally of the isolated, communist North, after a 13-month boycott by North Korea, which had cited “hostile” U.S. policies. Delegates struck an amiable note before the meeting, smiling and clasping hands for a group photo. The other participants are South Korea, Japan and Russia.
“These talks are at a critical juncture,” Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said at the opening ceremony. “We do not have the option of walking away from this problem.”
His North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, said: “The fundamental thing is to make real progress in realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
“This requires very firm political will and a strategic decision of the parties concerned that have interests in ending the threat of nuclear war,” Mr. Kim said. “We are fully ready and prepared for that.”
Mr. Hill directly addressed one of North Korea’s main demands, assuring Pyongyang that Washington recognized its sovereignty and would not attack to end the standoff.
“We view [North Korea’s] sovereignty as a matter of fact,” Mr. Hill said. “The United States has absolutely no intention to invade or attack.
“Nuclear weapons will not make [North Korea] more secure,” he said. “And, in fact, on the contrary, nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula will only increase tension in the region.”
Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, also expressed optimism.
“This is a solid foundation for us to usher our talks into a stage of more in-depth discussion and make important progress,” he said. “We need to show faith, confidence, resolve and patience. We have to make unremitting efforts.”
After his one-on-one session with Mr. Kim, Mr. Hill told reporters that the North Koreans expressed concerns about the “sequencing” of proposals. Washington has said it wants verifiable disarmament before North Korea is rewarded, while Pyongyang insists on getting something in exchange for a nuclear freeze and more concessions as it disarms.
“They do not want to have obligations ahead of other people’s obligations,” Mr. Hill said.
Russia’s Interfax news agency, citing unidentified North Korean sources, said North Korea also demanded that the United States withdraw nuclear weapons from South Korea as part of any settlement.
Both Washington and Seoul deny that any U.S. nuclear weapons are present in South Korea. It is not clear whether Pyongyang also is referring to visits to nearby waters by American nuclear-armed submarines.