Tuesday, May 27, 2014

N. Korean nuclear envoy confirms informal talks with U.S. experts

BEIJING, May 26 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's chief nuclear envoy on Monday confirmed that he held an informal meeting with U.S. experts in Mongolia late last week, in an apparent move to explore ways to resume long-stalled multilateral discussions on the North's nuclear program.

Asked upon arriving at a Beijing airport whether he held informal talks with U.S. experts, Ri Yong-ho, Pyongyang's chief delegate to the six-nation talks, told reporters, "Yes, yes." However, Ri declined to give details before being picked up by a North Korean Embassy vehicle.

The informal talks in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar on Friday were apparently aimed at reviving the deadlocked six-nation talks, but it was not immediately known whether any progress was made, a diplomatic source in Beijing said earlier Monday.

The Friday talks involved Ri and three U.S. experts, including Joel Wit and Robert Carlin, former U.S. State Department officials specializing in North Korean issues, the source said.

"Ri and the American experts met in Ulaanbaatar on May 23," the source said, declining to elaborate on what topics were covered.

"The U.S. government's stance is that the American experts had nothing to do with the U.S. government," the source said, adding that Washington "seems not to put any meaning to the informal talks in Mongolia."

Ri is expected to stay in Beijing on Monday before returning home on Tuesday. China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters that Ri is not scheduled to meet with Chinese officials.

"I have not heard that any Chinese leaders will meet with him," Qin replied when asked about whether Ri would meet with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, in Beijing.

North Korea and the U.S. held two rounds of such informal talks last year, which have served as venues for the two nations to share ideas about resuming the six-party talks.

Since North Korea's third nuclear test in February last year, the communist country has repeatedly expressed its willingness to reopen the six-party talks "without preconditions," but South Korea and the U.S. have maintained that North Korea must first demonstrate its sincerity toward denuclearization before the disarmament-for-aid talks can resume.

China has been more accommodating toward North Korea, urging South Korea and the U.S. to lower their bar for talks. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is set to visit South Korea on Monday with the agenda focused on how to deal with North Korea's nuclear program.

North Korea has been threatening to conduct its fourth nuclear test since last March, although recent satellite images showed no immediate signs of a test.

The six-party forum, which includes the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, has been dormant since late 2008.

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