SEOUL (Reuters) - Isolated North Korea said on Monday it had agreed to further dialogue with the United States, and repeated it was willing to resume regional nuclear disarmament talks at an early date, without preconditions.
U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth held talks with veteran North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York last Thursday and Friday.
Both called the discussions, the first such contact in four years, ”constructive.
A week earlier, the two Koreas used the same language to describe their first talks in more than two years.
“Both sides recognised that the improvement of the bilateral relations and the peaceful negotiated settlement of the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula conform with the interests of the two sides and agreed to further dialogue,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said of the New York talks.
The opening of bilateral channels, slammed shut after two attacks killed 50 South Koreans last year, has raised the prospect of a resumption of aid-for-denuclearisation talks involving the two Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
“The DPRK remains unchanged in its stand to resume the six-party talks without preconditions at an early date and comprehensively implement the September 19 joint statement on the principle of simultaneous action,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said.
DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The September 19 agreement, signed in 2005, spells out a process in which North Korea will scrap its nuclear programmes in exchange for economic and energy aid and diplomatic relations with the United States and Japan.
The North’s upbeat comments came after Washington and Seoul said it was too early to say if the contacts would immediately lead to a full-out reopening of negotiations among the six regional powers involved in the forum.
Experts say it could take many rounds of preliminary talks to restart regional nuclear talks.
Analysts are sceptical that the six-party process will restart anytime soon given the huge chasm that has opened up between the rivals since the collapse of international aid-for-denuclearisation talks two years ago.
North Korea expert Stephan Haggard, of the University of California, said movement is better than no movement, but there is still “a long, long way to go.”
He said both sides have presented positions that have “horse-size poison pills.” The North demands a peace treaty with the United States, while Washington demands a clear signal of the North’s intent to give up nuclear weapons.
“But they (the North) seem increasingly comfortable for both domestic political reasons as well as security ones to maintain these weapons,” Haggard wrote in a blog.
North Korea walked away from the six-way talks, which also involve China, Japan and Russia, after saying the process was useless as long as Washington harboured hostile intentions against Pyongyang.
U.S. officials have emphasised they are in no rush to restart the six-party talks. South Korea’s top nuclear envoy said last week that it was unlikely the recent diplomatic activities would produce breakthroughs.
Additional reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Alex Richardson