US, NKorea in first nuclear talks since Kim death

By Alexa Olesen

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 23 2012 5:30 p.m. MST

A man looks at photos of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il displayed outside North Korean embassy where a meeting of North Korean and U.S. diplomats is held, in Beijing, China, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. The U.S. and North Korea reopen nuclear talks on Thursday that will provide a glimpse into where Pyongyang's opaque government is heading after Kim Jong Il's death and test its readiness to dismantle nuclear programs for much-needed aid.

Alexander F. Yuan, Associated Press

BEIJING — The United States and North Korea headed into a second day of talks Friday on restarting nuclear disarmament in return for food aid, negotiations that were delayed by the death of North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il two months ago.

The discussions that ran all day Thursday could signal whether North Korea under new leader Kim Jong Un is ready to agree to steps demanded by Washington and Pyongyang's neighbors to return to broader multinational disarmament talks. More than two years have passed since the last six-nation discussions, which are meant to provide aid and diplomatic concessions in return for the North taking verifiable steps to mothball its nuclear weapons programs.

Kim's Dec. 17 death upended a deal between the United States and North Korea where Pyongyang would have suspended its uranium enrichment in return for food.

"The talks today were substantive and serious and we covered quite a number of issues," U.S. envoy Glyn Davies told reporters Thursday after meeting his counterpart Kim Kye Gwan for almost six hours over two sessions, first at the North Korean Embassy and then at the U.S. Embassy.

Davies would not provide other details, saying only that nutritional aid was discussed.

Kim said he found it "positive" that the two sides talked with "serious attitudes," South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Kim wouldn't elaborate when asked if progress was made.

The talks in Beijing are the third round since July aimed at restarting the broader negotiations that began in 2003 and also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. Pyongyang walked away from those talks in 2009 and later exploded its second nuclear device.

Additional steps may be needed before a resumption of the six-nation talks. The North may first request food shipments, while the U.S. and its allies want assurances Pyongyang is committed to making progress on past nuclear commitments.

Questioned on what agreements were needed to restart the six-nation talks, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the North Koreans "need to still come back and answer some of the questions and issues that we've raised previously."

"But we are also steadfast in what we're asking for North Korea to do, which is live up its prior commitments, and we're going to continue to talk with them," Toner told reporters at a Thursday briefing in Washington.

The United States has also said that better ties between North Korea and U.S. ally South Korea are crucial. 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 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.

The six-nation talks, once restarted, would be aimed at dismantling North Korea's remaining nuclear programs in exchange for what would likely involve even greater donations of aid.

Worries about North Korea's nuclear capability took on renewed urgency in November 2010 when the country disclosed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second route to manufacture nuclear weapons, in addition to its existing plutonium-based program.

As the envoys talked in Beijing, North Korea's state media criticized next month's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, which is expected to draw dozens of world leaders, including President Barack Obama, to discuss nuclear terrorism and safety.

"It is illogical to discuss the 'nuclear security' issue in South Korea, the U.S. nuclear advance base and a hotbed of nuclear war," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary Thursday.

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