Beijing: The United States and North Korea met for a second day of talks Friday on restarting nuclear disarmament in return for aid, negotiations that were delayed by the death of North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il two months ago.
The discussions, which ran all day Thursday, could signal whether North Korea under new leader Kim Jong Un is ready to agree to steps demanded by Washington and Pyongyang's neighbors to return to broader multinational disarmament talks. More than three years have passed since the last six-nation discussions, which are meant to provide aid and diplomatic concessions in return for the North taking verifiable steps to mothball its nuclear weapons programs.
Kim's 17 December death upended a tentative deal between the United States and North Korea in which Pyongyang would have suspended its uranium enrichment in return for food.
US envoy Glyn Davies told reporters before meeting his counterpart Kim Kye Gwan on Friday that the talks had covered all major areas.
"All those same issues, that begin with de-nuclearisation but go on to non-proliferation, humanitarian affairs, human rights, all of those issues are on the table," Davies told reporters.
He and Kim met for three hours Friday morning. There was no immediate word on whether they would hold a second session that afternoon.
The US-North Korea talks in Beijing are the third round since July aimed at restarting the broader negotiations that began in 2003 and also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The six-party talks were last held in December 2008. Pyongyang walked away from those talks in 2009 and later exploded its second nuclear device.
Additional steps may be needed before a resumption of the six-nation talks. The North may first request food shipments, while the US and its allies want assurances Pyongyang is committed to making progress on past nuclear commitments.
Questioned on what agreements were needed to restart the six-nation talks, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the North Koreans "need to still come back and answer some of the questions and issues that we've raised previously."
"But we are also steadfast in what we're asking for North Korea to do, which is live up its prior commitments, and we're going to continue to talk with them," Toner told reporters at a Thursday briefing in Washington.
The United States has also said that better ties between North Korea and U.S. ally South Korea are crucial. North Korea has rejected South Korean offers to talk in recent weeks, and animosity between the rivals still lingers from violence in 2010: a North Korean artillery attack in November killed four South Koreans on a front-line island, and Seoul blames North Korea for the sinking of a warship that killed 46 sailors earlier that year. Pyongyang denies sinking the ship and says a South Korean live-fire drill provoked the artillery attack.
The six-nation talks, once restarted, would be aimed at dismantling North Korea's remaining nuclear programs in exchange for what would likely involve even greater donations of aid.
Worries about North Korea's nuclear capability took on renewed urgency in November 2010 when the country disclosed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second route to manufacture nuclear weapons, in addition to its existing plutonium-based program.