NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States ended “constructive” talks with North Korea on Friday and will consult with Seoul and other allies on whether to reopen stalled negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea said.
U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth held two days of talks with veteran North Korean nuclear negotiator Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York, their first such interaction since 2009.
It was not immediately clear what, if any, agreements were reached during the U.S.-North Korean discussions.
Bosworth told reporters outside the mission that the talks were “constructive,” the same word that Kim used earlier to describe the meetings when he left the building.
Bosworth made clear it was too early to say what decisions Washington might take on resuming six-nation nuclear negotiations, which have been suspended for years.
“As we have said from the beginning of these discussions, they are designed to explore the willingness of North Korea to take concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization,” he said. “In that regard, these were constructive and businesslike discussions.”
“We reiterated that the path is open to North Korea toward the resumption of talks, improved relations with the United States, and greater regional stability,” he said.
But that would only be possible “if North Korea demonstrates through its actions that it supports the resumption of the six-party process as a committed and constructive partner,” Bosworth said.
The stalled six-party disarmament-for-aid talks include both Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China.
“Before deciding on next steps to resume the process, the United States will consult closely with the Republic of Korea and our other partners in the six-party talks,” he said.
Speaking earlier to reporters in Korean, Kim described the talks as “very constructive and businesslike.”
U.S. officials have emphasized they are in no rush to restart the six-party talks, which collapsed in 2009 when North Korea quit the process after new U.N. sanctions were imposed following a nuclear test by Pyongyang. North Korea also tested an atomic device in 2006.
Seoul has made clear it does not have high hopes for the six-party process at the moment.
“We are not optimistic for six-party talks as it was, and as it is,” South Korea’s nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, told a small group of foreign correspondents in Seoul.
Washington and its allies Seoul and Tokyo have been pressing North Korea to take real steps to demonstrate its sincerity ahead of any new negotiations, saying they were not interested in simply holding talks for talks’ sake.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Robert King, the Obama administration’s special envoy for human rights, joined the talks on Friday, but could give no further details on what was discussed.
China, Pyongyang’s chief international backer, has been urging a resumption of the broader negotiations.
In 2005, the six parties signed a document spelling out a process in which North Korea would scrap its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and energy aid and diplomatic relations with the United States and Japan.
North Korea has called for a peace treaty to replace the truce that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.
The current talks follow signs that tensions between North Korea and South Korea are easing since two attacks last year blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans.
South Korea has softened its demand for an apology from North Korea over the attacks as the precondition for resuming dialogue.
Foreign ministers from the two sides met on the sidelines of an Asian security conference in Indonesia on Saturday for the first time since 2008.
The United States and China have agreed on a three-stage process to resume the six-party talks. 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 six-party talks.
Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; Writing by Andrew Quinn and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Peter Cooney