U.S. sees no "fast track" for North Korea nuclear talks

HONG KONG Mon Jul 25, 2011 8:19am EDT

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The United States is in no rush to resume nuclear talks with North Korea even though Washington has invited a senior diplomat to New York this week, U.S. officials said Monday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Sunday that North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kae-gwan would discuss what needs to be done to restart the dialogue with Pyongyang which has been suspended since 2009.

Kim was North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator for years before being promoted last year.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell Monday described the talks as "preliminary" and not necessarily a move toward restarting six-nation talks on the nuclear issue.

"We are going to lay out very clearly our expectations for what will be necessary to resume not only six-party talks but direct engagement between the United States and North Korea," Campbell said in Hong Kong, where Clinton is winding up a world tour.

"We have very clear pre-steps related to nuclear issues, related to proliferation concerns, that we will need to see clearly articulated by the North Koreans if we are to go forward."

A senior U.S. official said Kim's visit should not be interpreted as suggesting "that we are on the fast track to resumption of six party talks."

"We need to see many more indications from the North Koreans before we approach that point," the official said.

Kim's visit will come a week after the North and South Korean top nuclear envoys met on the sidelines of a key Asian regional security forum in Indonesia and a brief encounter between the two Korean foreign ministers at the same event.

Washington and Beijing have agreed on a three-stage process to resume so-called six-party talks, which also involve Russia and Japan. The first stage is the two Koreas engaging bilaterally, the second involves talks between the North and the United States, and the third stage is the wider, six-party talks.

The contacts at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit were interpreted as hinting at progress toward unblocking the deadlock in inter-Korean relations, and U.S. officials described them as a positive step.

Clinton met Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo in the southern Chinese economic boomtown of Shenzhen later Monday. A U.S. official said they spoke for four hours, discussing a wide range of China-U.S. issues including prospective arms sales to Taiwan and discussed recent developments on North Korea.

He said both parties were committed to trying to stabilize the U.S.- China relationship ahead of a series of high level meetings later this year, including U.S. Vice President Biden's trip to China.

The official said the United States believed China was ready to "weigh in" with the north Koreans to push things along.

"We are pretty much getting close to the last best or last only chance," he said.

(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Sugita Katyal)

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