US Upbeat About North Korea Talks

Diplomats from Washington and Pyongyang met for the first time since Kim John Il's death to explore restarting multi-lateral talks.

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Gabe Kahn.,

Glyn Davies
Glyn Davies

The United States and North Korea resumed disarmament talks on Thursday over its nuclear weapons program.

The talks — delayed by the death of North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il two months ago — are to continue Friday and could signal whether North Korea's new government is ready to agree to steps demanded by Washington and Pyongyang's neighbors.

Kim's 17 December 2011 death scuttled a deal between the United States and North Korea where Pyongyang would have suspended its uranium enrichment in return for food aid from Washington.

The talks in Beijing, the third round since July, are aimed at restarting six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations that also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. Pyongyang walked away from those talks in 2009 and later exploded its second nuclear device.

Thursday's meetings in Beijing may also partly reveal North Korea's goals under new leader Kim Jong Un, who has vowed to follow his father's policies.

"The talks today were substantive and serious and we covered quite a number of issues," US envoy Glyn Davies told reporters after meeting with his counterpart Kim Kye Gwan.

"We'll pick up again tomorrow and see if we can't make a little bit of progress," Davies added, saying only that Thursday's talks had included discussions of food aid.

Davies added he would also have dinner with the North Korean officials, "We are still in mid-negotiations," he explained.

Thursday's meeting was divided into two sessions held over a period of six hours. They first met at the North Korean Embassy and then at the US Embassy.

Kim described the talks as "positive" and said the two sides talked with "serious attitudes," South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Additional steps may still be needed before a resumption of multilateral talks. The North may first request food shipments, while the US and its allies want assurances Pyongyang is committed meeting past nuclear commitments.

The United States also maintains better ties between North Korea and US ally South Korea are essential to a final agreement. North Korea has rejected South Korean offers to talk in recent weeks, and animosity between the rivals still lingers from violence in 2010.

A North Korean artillery attack in November 2010 killed four South Koreans on a front-line island, and Seoul blames North Korea for the sinking of a warship that killed 46 sailors earlier that year.

Pyongyang denies sinking the ship and says a South Korean live-fire drill provoked the artillery attack.