BEIJING — A U.S. envoy said Friday he made "a little bit of progress" in negotiations with North Korea on restarting nuclear disarmament in return for aid but played down hopes of any immediate solution to the standoff.
The talks in the Chinese capital were the first since the death two months ago of North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il 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 that he had no breakthrough to announce and that Washington and its allies, Japan and South Korea, instead 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 Yongbyon, 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 is ready to agree to steps demanded by Washington and Pyongyang's neighbors to return to broader multinational disarmament talks — involving 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 mothball its nuclear weapons programs.
This was the third round of talks. The U.S. had reported progress after the earlier rounds, but the death of Kim Jong Il on Dec. 17 put progress on hold.
Davies said a date for a next round of 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.