October 24, 2009 / 7:32 PM / 10 years ago

Diplomat meets North Korean official in New York

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. diplomat met on Saturday with North Korea’s second-ranking official involved in stalled six-country nuclear negotiations, a move that could be a step toward reconvening the talks.

Ri Gun, deputy director general of North Korea's American Affairs Bureau, enters the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York March 7, 2006. REUTERS/Seth Wenig

A State Department spokesman said North Korean Ambassador Ri Gun met in New York with Sung Kim, the State Department’s North Korea desk chief and a special envoy to the six party talks.

“DPRK ambassador Ri Gun has traveled to the U.S. on the invitation of U.S. private organizations,” State Department spokesman Noel Clay said in a statement. “During his visit, ambassador Sung Kim took the opportunity to meet with him in New York on October 24 to convey our position on denuclearization and the six party talks.”

Ri was granted permission to also attend meetings with private scholars in New York and San Diego over the next several days.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has called for direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang, but the United States has viewed the request with caution.

Obama administration officials have insisted that any bilateral contacts with North Korea result in the rapid resumption of the stalled six-country nuclear negotiations.

The six-party talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States but have been stalled since North Korea said six months ago it was quitting them. Pyongyang added to tension by conducting its second nuclear test in May.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, said last week that North Korea must show a commitment to the six-party framework and abide by pledges made in 2005 and 2007 to give up its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for economic aid and an end to diplomatic isolation.

But analysts have said Ri’s trip to United States for unofficial meetings could help set the stage for a resumption of formal nuclear talks.

He is expected to participate in the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a forum sponsored by the University of California-San Diego that will bring together foreign ministry, defense officials and academics from China, Russia, North and South Korea, Japan and the United States to discuss regional security issues.

Clay said that ambassador Kim and U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of defense Derek Mitchell will participate in the San Diego meetings, which start on Sunday. He said the level of U.S. participation in the unofficial “Track II” event is “the same as previous years.”

Reporting by David Lawder and Paul Eckert, Editing by Sandra Maler

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