US envoy sees bit of progress in NKorea nuke talks

By Alexa Olesen

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 6:20 a.m. MST

A sedan carrying North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan leaves U.S. embassy after a meeting with U.S. envoy Glyn Davies in Beijing, China, Friday, Feb. 24, 2012.

Alexander F. Yuan, Associated Press

BEIJING — A U.S. envoy said Friday he made "a little bit of progress" in negotiations with North Korea on restarting efforts to dismantle its nuclear program in return for aid but downplayed hopes of any immediate solution to the standoff.

The talks in the Chinese capital were the first since Kim Jong Il's death upended a tentative deal in which the U.S. would have provided food aid in return for Pyongyang suspending its uranium enrichment.

The restarted negotiations were being closely watched for possible changes in bargaining position under the new leadership of the North's opaque government, but U.S. envoy Glyn Davies said he noticed no significant change in the talks.

"There was nothing stylistically or substantively dramatically different in terms of how the North Koreans were presenting their positions," he said.

Davies told reporters that after a day-and-a-half of discussions he had no breakthrough to announce and that Washington and its allies, Japan and South Korea, needed to evaluate what the North Korean negotiators told him.

"I think we made a little bit of progress," Davies told a news conference where he described the talks as serious and substantive.

Issues Davies discussed included North Korea's uranium enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear site, U.S. food assistance and human rights. He also raised issues important to Tokyo and Seoul — the past abductions of Japanese nationals and the need for North Korea to improve relations with South Korea. The latter has been a U.S. condition for returning to the six-nation disarmament negotiations.

"I think the word 'breakthrough' goes way too far. I don't want anyone to use the word 'breakthrough'," he told reporters.

The discussions were being watched for any signals whether North Korea under new leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il's young son, is ready to agree to steps demanded by Washington and Pyongyang's neighbors to return to broader disarmament talks that involve the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

More than three 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 scrap its nuclear weapons programs.

This was the third round of U.S.-North Korea talks since July. The death of North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il on Dec. 17 put the talks, and the potential food-for-disarmament deal, on hold.

Davies said a date for a next round of bilateral talks has not been set yet, and that the U.S. side would remain in contact through North Korea's office at the United Nations.

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