The United States and North Korea hold talks on Thursday on how to improve ties and the Stalinist North's secretive atomic weapons program, after Pyongyang warned a US missile defense shield would set off a new nuclear arms race.
While North Korea went into the New York meetings with a new diplomatic blast at the US administration, Washington said it will be looking for signs that Kim Jong-Il's government is serious about seeking peace.
The meetings between delegations led by North Korea's vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan and the US special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, are scheduled to be held at the US mission to the United Nations.
A second day of contacts are expected to be held on Friday.
North Korea staged nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 having agreed in principle during six-nation talks in 2005 to scrap its nuclear weapons program.
Kim and Bosworth are expected to discuss improving US-North Korean ties and ways to relaunch the talks between the North and the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
The North walked out of those negotiations in late 2008. Its disclosure in November that it had a uranium enrichment plant, possibly another means to produce atomic weapons, has become a new complicating factor.
The New York meetings were announced after the nuclear envoys of South and North Korea held a surprise meeting on the sidelines of an Asian security conference in Bali, Indonesia.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Bali meeting had been "constructive" but that the communist state needs to do more.
"What we're looking for is in our mind a clear indication that North Korea is serious about moving forward," Toner told reporters.
The United States will be watching to see if North Korea will recommit to a 2005 agreement made at the six-party talks "as well as take concrete and irreversible steps towards denuclearization," the spokesman said.
North Korea's official news agency said in a commentary Wednesday that a peace agreement with the United States formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War could become a "first step" to peace on the Korean peninsula and "denuclearization."
The North and South fought a bitter war -- in which the United States backed the South -- capped by an armistice but no full peace treaty.
"It is impossible to wipe out the mutual distrust, nor is it possible to achieve a smooth solution of the issue of denuclearization, as long as there persists the hostile relationship" between North Korea and the United States, the North Korean news agency said.
But diplomats have warned that the North is unlikely to make concessions in the talks.
"North Korea is in trouble again. It needs food supplies and its economy is falling deeper and deeper into crisis," an Asian diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
"But it cannot afford to give up the nuclear weapons, which are its main bargaining point. The Pygongyang regime is the leader in playing for time."
Just hours before the start of the talks, the North's UN envoy said the United States was aiming through a proposed missile defense shield to gain "absolute nuclear superiority and global hegemony over the other nuclear power rivals."
The ambassador, Sin Son Ho, said the shield that the United States wants to build over Eastern Europe showed the United States has no "moral justifications" to lecture other countries about proliferation.
He warned that the shield could "spark a new nuclear arms race."
South Korea, a key observer in the new contacts, is also dubious about the meetings. It has demanded that its arch-rival show sincerity about wanting good relations before agreeing to concrete action to help its beleaguered neighbor.