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A senior North Korean diplomat strongly indicated that his country has no plans to abandon nuclear weapons, despite its agreement to return to six-party talks, according to news reports Wednesday.
North Korea's deputy foreign minister, Kang Sok Ju, speaking to a group of reporters while passing through Beijing from Russia, instead demanded the United States lift financial sanctions against the North, Japan's NHK television and Kyodo News agency said.
Kang said North Korea had not tested nuclear weapons only to get rid of them, the reports said.
"Why would we abandon nuclear weapons?" NHK and Kyodo quoted Kang as saying, with his comment translated into Japanese. "Are you saying we conducted a nuclear test in order to abandon them?"
Asked if Pyongyang planned to demand the US lift sanctions, Kang said "of course," NHK and Kyodo reported.
NHK added that the North planned to make the demand in preparatory meetings ahead of the expected resumption of six-party talks on the North's nuclear program.
In Tokyo, government officials said they could not immediately confirm the reported comments, but stressed that Pyongyang could not continue to develop nuclear arms.
"North Korea has an obligation to give up all nuclear weapons and all existing nuclear programs," said Hiroshi Suzuki, deputy Cabinet secretary. "The whole purpose of resuming the six-party talks is to make sure that we have tangible progress or concrete results."
A nuclear test by North Korea on Oct. 9 triggered international condemnation and sanctions.
In September 2005 it had agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid, but it withdrew from talks two months later, protesting Washington's financial sanctions over suspected money laundering.
Pyongyang agreed early this month to return to the talks, which may resume next month.
Kang was speaking at Beijing's international airport on his way home from Russia, where he reportedly went for medical treatment.