U.S. and North Korea hold "useful" talks in Geneva

GENEVA Mon Oct 24, 2011 12:08pm EDT

Ri Kun, North Korean envoy for United States (R) leaves his hotel for the United States Mission in Geneva October 24, 2011.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Ri Kun, North Korean envoy for United States (R) leaves his hotel for the United States Mission in Geneva October 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

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GENEVA (Reuters) - U.S. and North Korean negotiators made "useful presentations" on Monday, a U.S. special envoy said at the start of a two-day meeting, the second such encounter since six-party talks on nuclear disarmament collapsed more than two years ago.

"We had initial presentations of our respective positions, and I think these were useful presentations," Clifford Hart, U.S. special envoy, told reporters in Geneva after two hours of talks in the morning. He did not take questions.

Later, an afternoon session ended after 1.5 hours. "Today's talks are finished," a North Korean official told Reuters.

The session, which follows talks in New York in late July, is aimed more at managing tensions on the divided Korean peninsula than resuming stalled regional talks on ending the North's nuclear programs.

The two delegations are staying at the same Geneva lakeside hotel but held talks at the U.S. diplomatic mission. In repeated choreography of the New York talks, they lunched separately on Monday but plan to have dinner together at 7:30 p.m. (1730 GMT).

U.S. officials have described the talks as "exploratory" and aimed at keeping Pyongyang engaged so as to avoid any "miscalculations" by the reclusive nation.

U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth, accompanied by his successor Glyn Davies, and veteran North Korean nuclear negotiator Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan lead the respective delegations.

North Korean officials are to host the talks on Tuesday, including a possible joint lunch. The U.S. delegation was expected to make a statement after the talks conclude.

SLIGHT EASING OF TENSIONS

U.S. officials and analysts were keeping expectations low, despite a slight easing of tensions between American ally South Korea and North Korea, and Pyongyang's repeated calls for resuming nuclear talks.

The six-party talks, including North Korea's ally China as well as Russia, Japan and South Korea, fell apart in 2009 when North Korea quit the process after U.N. sanctions were imposed following its second nuclear test.

China wants North Korea to deepen talks with the South and the United States in the hope of restarting nuclear negotiations, the Chinese vice premier told his North Korean counterpart, state media reported on Monday.

The six-party forum offers the North economic aid in return for dismantling its nuclear program which is believed to have yielded enough fissile material to make up to 10 atomic bombs.

Last year, the North unveiled a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon, which opens a second route to make a nuclear bomb along with its plutonium program, and argued it was for peaceful purposes. It says uranium enrichment falls outside the realm of previous six-party negotiations.

A September 2005 agreement reached by all sides does not specifically refer to uranium enrichment, only stating that the North must cease all nuclear activities.

Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang must first halt its nuclear activities, including its uranium enrichment program, before six-party talks can restart.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on his first visit to Asia, said in an op-ed published in Japan's Yomiuri newspaper that the common challenges faced by the United States and Japan included North Korea and China.

"These include North Korea, which continues to engage in reckless and provocative behavior and is developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which pose a threat not just to Japan, but to the entire region."

South Korea said last week that Pyongyang's defiance over uranium enrichment remains the biggest hurdle.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has stated his readiness to return to the nuclear talks "without any preconditions." He says the North remains committed to fulfilling the September agreement with the aim of denuclearizing the entire peninsula.

Analysts say there is little chance the North will ever give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, seen as the ultimate bargaining chip and most effective deterrent against attack from the South, and that six-party talks are still a long way off.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Japan; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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