BEIJING (AP) – Six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program resumed Monday for the first time in more than a year, a test of whether the secretive communist regime is willing to negotiate after its surprise atomic test rattled the region this fall.

Head Chinese delegate Wu Dawei formally declared the talks open at a Chinese state guesthouse in Beijing, calling on envoys to discuss implementation of a September 2005 agreement in which the North pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.

“After hearing each country’s opening speech, especially North Korea’s opening speech, we will be able to tell where the six-party talks will go,” South Korean nuclear envoy Chun Yung-woo told reporters Monday before the talks.

North Korea agreed to return to the six-nation negotiations just weeks after its Oct. 9 nuclear test, saying it wanted to discuss U.S. financial restrictions against a Macau bank where the regime held accounts.

That issue will be addressed in separate U.S.-North Korean meetings, but they were delayed until Tuesday because the North Korean delegates responsible for those talks had yet to arrive, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

The arms talks have been plagued by delays and discord since they began in August 2003.

The U.S. has sought to line up support against Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions by enlisting its neighbors – including China, Japan, Russia and South Korea – in the discussions.

The North exploited divisions among the U.S. and its partners in an effort to change the subject and buy time to develop its atomic arsenal.

But North Korea’s nuclear test of a low-yield nuclear device seemed to stiffen the will of other countries – particularly China – to persuade it to disarm.

Beijing joined a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear test, and brought Pyongyang and Washington together just a few weeks later to agree to resume nuclear discussions.

North Korea had boycotted the talks in response to the financial restrictions imposed by the United States. Washington had accused North Korea of using the Macau bank in scheme to launder money and print counterfeit U.S. currency.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the U.S. nuclear envoy, says the main task now is to implement an agreement from September 2005 – the only accord negotiators have reached so far – when the North promised to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid. The alternative, he says, is sanctions.

“I hope that (North Korea) understands that, as the rest of us do, that we really are reaching a fork in the road,” Hill said after arriving in Beijing.

Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s chief negotiator, said Saturday that it is up to the Americans to take the first step. After arriving in Beijing, he called the lifting of the U.S. financial restrictions a “precondition” to further negotiations.

Hill, meanwhile, emphasized that U.N. sanctions imposed after the North’s nuclear test would remain in effect until the North’s gives up its atomic programs.

“Most of the world has told them that we don’t accept them as a nuclear state,” he said. “If they want a future with us, if they want to work with us, if they want to be a member of the international community, they’re going to have to get out of this nuclear business.”

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that “I don’t yet see the conditions for a breakthrough” in the diplomatic impasse over North Korea’s nuclear program. But he said that a political solution can eventually be found.

All the chief delegates met for dinner Sunday, but Hill said he merely exchanged pleasantries with North Korea’s Kim. He said that the North did not want bilateral talks with any delegation before Monday’s official start.

There is no scheduled date for the negotiations to end, but Hill said he hoped to return to Washington by the end of the week.

The latest North Korean nuclear crisis began in late 2002, when U.S. officials said the North admitted running a secret nuclear program. The program violated a 1994 deal with the U.S., in which North Korea agreed to halt its atomic development.

After its admission, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, expelled international inspectors and restarted its main nuclear reactor in order to make plutonium for bombs.


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