SEOUL, South Korea — Ties between the rival Koreas should improve before North Korea and the United States can achieve real progress in their relationship, a U.S. envoy said Saturday after holding nuclear talks with North Korean officials in Beijing.
The comments by Glyn Davies in Seoul came as North Korea threatened "a sacred war" over large-scale U.S.-South Korean military drills set to begin Monday.
Davies said Friday in Beijing that he had made a little progress in talks with North Korea aimed at restarting stalled nuclear disarmament-for-aid negotiations, but downplayed hopes of a quick resolution.
He told reporters in Seoul on Saturday that he made it clear to North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan in Beijing that the North should find a way to improve its relations with South Korea.
"We hope and we expect that (North Korea) will choose to go down the path of greater engagement and, indeed, ultimately a greater cooperation, in particular, with (South Korea)," Davies said. "That's fundamental, essential, and there's no way to make ultimate progress unless they make that decision."
South Korean nuclear negotiator Lim Sung-nam said he expects nuclear talks between the Koreas "in the future" but didn't provide any timetable.
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 the sinking of a South Korean warship earlier that year killed 46 sailors. Seoul blames North Korea for the sinking, but the North denies involvement and says a South Korean live-fire drill provoked the artillery attack.
On Saturday, North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission threatened war over the annual U.S.-South Korean drills, which the allies say are defensive in nature. North Korea says the exercises are a precursor to war and has routinely threatened a "sacred war."
The talks Thursday and Friday in Beijing were the first since North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's death on Dec. 17 upended a tentative deal in which the U.S. would have provided food aid in return for a suspension of uranium enrichment by North Korea.
The restarted U.S.-North Korean negotiations in Beijing were closely watched for possible changes in bargaining positions under North Korea's new leadership, and especially for any indication that new leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il's youngest son, is ready to agree to steps demanded by Washington before resuming disarmament talks that involve the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia. More than three years have passed since the last six-nation discussions.