By CNN Associate Producer Judy Kwon
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- A senior North Korean official said his country plans to unload fuel rods from its nuclear reactor and "reprocess the fuel into plutonium to make nuclear weapons" as a way to leverage a return to bilateral talks with the United States, American scholar Selig Harrison told reporters at a Beijing news conference Saturday.
Harrison, one of the few U.S. scholars granted access to senior North Korean officials, said he spoke with Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan who told him Pyongyang planned to unload the rods from the Yongbyon reactor.
Kim reportedly said the government had been "unhappy with the financial sanctions the U.S. has imposed," but was eager to negotiate with the U.S. and return to the six-party talks. The talks include Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea and the United States.
"The financial sanction policy is working against the very objective that we say we have with North Korea, which is to get them to open up to the outside world," Harrison said.
Earlier this week Japan passed a new package of financial sanctions against North Korea that essentially banned transactions between Pyongyang and a list of 15 companies and one individual with ties to the North's missile and weapons programs. (Full story)
The move was parallel to earlier U.S. sanctions imposed against the communist country under a U.N. Security Council resolution that was adopted after the North's intercontinental ballistic missile launches in July.
Washington and North Korea's Asian neighbors -- South Korea, China, Russia and Japan -- have been trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program since 2002 in the framework of the six-party talks.