Carter (second left) said North Korea wants better ties with US [Reuters]
North Korea has refused to make major concessions in talks with ex-US President Jimmy Carter, insisting Washington provide some kind of security guarantee in return for giving up its nuclear weapons programme, the former leader said in a blog.
Carter and three other former state leaders, known as The Elders, were due to leave Pyongyang on Thursday after a "private" visit aimed at defusing tensions on the peninsula, as well as discussing the impoverished North's pleas for food aid.
The North has said it wants to rejoin international aid-for-disarmament talks, which it walked out of over two years ago in anger over a new round of UN sanctions for its second nuclear test and a long-range missile test.
"We are hearing consistently throughout our busy schedule here in Pyongyang that the North wants to improve relations with America and is prepared to talk without preconditions to both the US and South Korea on any subject," Carter wrote in a blog on Wednesday on the Elders website (www.theelders.org)
"The sticking point -- and it's a big one -- is that they won't give up their nuclear programme without some kind of security guarantee from the US".
The North has repeatedly stated it wants an assurance the United States will not attack it, as well as a peace treaty.
Carter and his team, comprising former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and ex-Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland, have met the North's ceremonial head of state and foreign minister.
Experts say there is a possibility they will also meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un before departing for Seoul on Thursday.
Carter's visit comes as momentum builds towards a resumption of aid-for-disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
South Korea, with Washington's backing, has demanded the North "show a responsible attitude" for last year's two deadly attacks on the peninsula for the talks to restart.
The North denies responsibility for the torpedoing of a South Korean warship last year, and said it shelled Yongpyeong island after South Korea test-fired artillery into its waters.
Shuttle diplomacy between the six-party envoys has increased in recent weeks, and China's nuclear envoy and his South Korean counterpart agreed in Seoul this week on a stage-by-stage process for restarting the talks.
However, both Seoul and Washington are sceptical about the North's sincerity about denuclearising, citing its revelations last year of major advances in a uranium enrichment programme which could open a second route to make an atomic bomb.