The United States sat down for rare bilateral talks with a North Korean envoy on Thursday to gauge whether Pyongyang is genuine about abandoning its nuclear weapons drive.
The meeting in New York took place after North and South Korean nuclear negotiators met for the first time in more than two years on the sidelines of an Asian security forum in Indonesia last week.
Following that meeting, and an unofficial encounter between the countries' foreign ministers at the same venue, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited North Korean first vice foreign minister Kim Kye-Gwan to New York.
Neither side gave much away after the talks, which lasted several hours, according to The Washington Post.
The first of two days of meetings had been "serious and businesslike," the State Department said, while North Korea's representative called the atmosphere "constructive."
"This is a chance for us to sound out the North Koreans," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
The talks are expected to continue Friday as the United States presses Kim over whether the secretive communist regime in Pyongyang is sincere when it says it wants to re-start the stalled six-party dialogue on denuclearization.
The Post reported:
South Korea’s willingness to go along with that plan was especially significant, representing a softening of policy after a year of turmoil on the peninsula. In March 2010, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46. It also shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people, and unveiled a uranium-enrichment facility to a visiting U.S. scientist.
Washington emphasized that its engagement in direct talks with the North Koreans was being done in close coordination with South Korea and other partners, AFP reported.
The six-nation talks group the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. They have gone nowhere since Pyongyang walked out in late 2008, having agreed in principle three years earlier to scrap its weapons program.
The North staged nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, and revealed in November last year that it has a uranium enrichment plant in addition to the plutonium fuel source already disclosed.
Clinton said last week the uraniam enrichment program would be a major issue the North would have to address before six-party talks could resume.