US, North Korea hold first talks since Kim's death

Marianne Barriaux
US negotiator Glyn Davies and his team leave the North Korean embassy in Beijing after bilateral talks. Senior US and North Korean diplomats began talks on Pyongyang's controversial nuclear programme on Thursday, in the first substantive contact between the two nations since leader Kim Jong-Il died

A senior US diplomat said Thursday he had held "serious and substantive" talks with North Korea's nuclear envoy in Beijing, the first such contact between the two nations since leader Kim Jong-Il died.

Glyn Davies, coordinator for US policy on North Korea, and other officials held talks on denuclearisation, non-proliferation and humanitarian aid with a delegation from Pyongyang headed by veteran negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan.

The ongoing talks are seen as a chance for Davies to clarify what policies North Korea's untested new leader Kim Jong-Un plans and to try to work with Pyongyang to resume multilateral talks on ending its nuclear weapons programme.

"The talks were serious and substantive. We covered a number of issues," Davies told reporters after the meeting.

"We are in mid-talks. I expect we will wrap up tomorrow."

The United States has been exploring a resumption of six-nation denuclearisation talks with North Korea but has insisted that Pyongyang respect a 2005 agreement at the talks to give up its atomic weapons.

"My hope is that we can find a way to move forward with the North, because it's in everyone's interest to try to get onto the next phase, which will be six-party talks," Davies told reporters Wednesday after landing in Beijing.

North Korea abandoned the six-nation talks in April 2009 because of what it described as US hostility, and conducted a nuclear test the following month to international condemnation.

The negotiations are chaired by China and also include Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.

Thursday's talks between the North and the United States are the third since July. The two sides were scheduled to meet in December, but the plan was shelved after Kim's death on December 17 and the subsequent transition of power to his son Kim Jong-Un.

"What precisely his (Kim Jong-Un's) policies are, in what direction he wants to take his country -- all of these are unknowns at this stage," Davies said.

"I find it a positive sign that relatively soon after the beginning of the transition in North Korea, the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) has chosen to get back to the table with us. That's a good thing."

Analysts say Pyongyang -- which has said it wants to return to the six-party talks, albeit without any preconditions -- may be eager to resume discussions with Washington to show the regime is operating as it was before Kim's death.

The United States insists that Pyongyang must take steps to shut down its uranium enrichment facilities and ease tensions with South Korea before restarting the multilateral forum.

Analysts suggest that if North Korea agrees to these preconditions, the United States will also pledge to provide much-needed food assistance to the impoverished country.

China -- North Korea's main ally -- is also keen for the six-party talks to resume, and foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Thursday said dialogue was the "only way out" of the current impasse.

"China... would like to make concerted efforts with all relevant parties to press ahead with denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula as well as resumption of the six-party talks," he told reporters.

Davies, who is accompanied by Clifford Hart -- US special envoy for the six-party talks -- will also meet his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei on his trip to China, and is scheduled to go to South Korea on Saturday.