Beijing: North Korean officials are "not eager" to resume six-nation talks on ending their nation's nuclear weapons programme, though they have not ruled out a return to dialogue, a UN envoy has said.
"They were certainly not eager to return to the six-party talks," Lynn Pascoe, the UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, said after four days of talks in North Korea on Friday.
Pascoe, the first high-ranking UN official to visit North Korea since 2004, said his trip was partly for "re-engagement".
"I think in that sense we made a good beginning," he said, adding that the talks were "quite frank and open".
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted sources in Beijing as saying that North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, who was in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials on Friday, plans to visit the US in March.
The agency reported that dates were agreed for Kim Kye Gwan's US visit, which some analysts had believed could herald the reopening of the six-party talks, on hold since North Korea walked out in April.
In Washington, the US State Department dismissed the report. Spokesman PJ Crowley said there were "no plans for such a visit at this point".
Crowley said there were indications that the North Koreans "recognise the importance" of the six-party talks, but he said the US was waiting for a clearer sign.
"What we need now is for them to pull the trigger and actually, you know, come back to that process," Crowley told reporters.
Pascoe said the North Korean officials in Pyongyang "professed great interest in improving relations with their neighbours and with the United States".
He declined to explain why he said the North Koreans were not eager to return to the six-party talks, but he said they again expressed their dissatisfaction with international sanctions linked to the nuclear programme.
Pyongyang walked out of the six-party talks in April, insisting that UN sanctions be lifted as a condition to returning to the negotiating table. The talks also involve the US, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
"They said they didn't like the sanctions and they'd like to get rid of the sanctions," Pascoe, who is also a special envoy of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, told reporters.
He said the UN was also concerned that North Korea was only receiving about one-quarter of the humanitarian aid it requires, mostly in the form of food.
Pascoe met Kim Yong Nam, the official number two in the Korean Workers' Party, on Thursday, reading him a "personal message" from Ban.
On Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told visiting Chinese officials that his country remained committed to denuclearisation through the six-nation talks.
It was not clear if Pascoe's comments reflected any change in that position.
Wang Jiarui, a top diplomat from China's ruling Communist Party, gave Kim a letter from President Hu Jintao, saying that China wanted the two nations to "make joint efforts ... to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula", Chinese state media said.
First Published: Saturday, February 13, 2010, 10:07