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Archive for Thursday, August 28, 2003

N. Korea, U.S. meet one-on-one

August 28, 2003

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— Trading the cold shoulder for careful conversation, the United States and North Korea made their first direct contact in four months on Wednesday, huddling on the sidelines of a multinational summit to work through a venomous stalemate over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

China, South Korea, Japan and Russia joined them in formal discussions, eager to apply delicate diplomacy to East Asia's most alarming security problem. Later, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il sat in chairs off to the side and conferred.

"The U.S. side made comments about easing North Korea's security concerns," said Wie Sung-rak, director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau. "From what North Koreans said during the meeting, we could read that North Korea is willing to resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue."

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the U.S.-North Korea meeting lasted about 35 to 40 minutes, but he gave no other details.

The United States later downplayed the informal half-hour meeting.

"There will not be any separate formal bilateral meetings with the North Koreans," said a U.S. Embassy spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The extraordinary three-day, six-country summit, reconvened today, but there was no immediate word on developments.

The contact between the North Korean and American delegations ended a diplomatic drought between their two nations, whose envoys have not met formally since April.

Tensions and hostilities have been escalating since October, when Pyongyang acknowledged -- to Kelly himself -- that it restarted a nuclear program it had supposedly shut down. The United States has demanded that North Korea stop the program immediately, while the impoverished North has refused to budge without security and economic aid guarantees.

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