BEIJING -- North Korea took a tough stand yesterday during talks with the United States, reportedly insisting that Washington normalize relations and remove all atomic threats before it gave up nuclear weapons.
For its part, the United States stood by an aid-for-disarmament offer the North rejects as unfair.
South Korea's envoy characterized it as a ''useful talk, where it became clear" what the two sides ''had in common and what differences were."
''It remains to be seen over time whether prospects are bright or not," Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told reporters.
But the stances hinted that negotiators could have difficult work despite vows to make progress in the talks, which resumed yesterday after 13 months. North Korea said the United States must abandon plans to topple its regime, and must establish mechanisms for peaceful coexistence, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, citing a source in Beijing.
The comments were reportedly made by the head of the North Korean delegation, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, at the start of the second day of talks on the North's nuclear program. Participants in the talks are the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia.
Washington has said that it recognizes North Korea's sovereignty, and that it has no intention of attacking. The North accused Washington of hostility after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called North Korea one of the world's ''outposts of tyranny" in January.
The North also raised the issue of what it says is a US nuclear arsenal that could be used against the North, a senior US official said.
Both Washington and Seoul deny that any US nuclear weapons are in the South; South Korea had raised the possibility of opening South Korean and US bases for verification by the North.
For its part, the United States ''stood behind" a 2004 offer to give the North a security guarantee and economic and energy aid in return for a nuclear-free peninsula, the official said. The US offer requires the North to dismantle its nuclear program and allow monitoring before any aid is given.
North Korea said that the proposal, made last June, was unrealistic, the official said.