North Korea is sending strong signals to Washington that it is prepared to reopen talks with the US on its controversial nuclear arms programme, but refuses to say if it will give up its nuclear ambitions as a price for normalising relations with the United States. The North Korean Foreign Ministry yesterday, in a policy statement rejecting the US call for dismantling its nuclear arms programme, demanded a non-aggression pact and a guarantee for its economic and political survival, before implementing arms control under the 1994 Agreed Framework. In a statement carried by the official Central News Agency on the eve of US President George W. Bush's talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis with China's President Jiang Zemin in Mexico, the North claimed its weapons programme was a step in self-defence against what it called a threat of pre-emptive strike from the United States. Mr Bush is also meeting South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of the Pacific rim summit in Mexico as part of a strategy session over North Korea's nuclear threat. The North's statement was clearly timed to coincide with this high-level policy consultation, officials said. 'If the US pledges not to use a first strike against us then we are prepared to address its security concerns,' the Foreign Ministry statement said. 'For a small country like ours, the starting point for solving all problems lies in removing threats to our sovereignty and our right to live in peace.' What the North is really trying to convey through this kind of rhetoric is that it is afraid of becoming a second Iraq, say analysts in Seoul. 'Pyongyang is seeking to hammer out a peace treaty with the United States that could ensure its survival,' said Chun Hyun-joon, a researcher at the Institute for National Unification, a government think-tank. Sketching out the details of its proposal, the Foreign Ministry listed three elements that the North said were essential for trading its nuclear ambitions: the US respect for its sovereignty, the signing of a non-aggression pact and 'removing obstacles' in the way of its economic development. The first two conditions usually refer to Pyongyang's demand for diplomatic recognition from the US. The last condition indicates its desire for membership in multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, which would provide loans for its economic development projects. This month, North Korea First Vice-Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju stunned James Kelly, the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State, by acknowledging it had a secret uranium-enrichment project for making atomic bombs. The Bush administration has reiterated its policy of seeking a peaceful dialogue for resolving the nuclear crisis. But Washington has firmly insisted that the North must first dismantle its weapons programme before expecting economic aid and diplomatic recognition.