SINGAPORE (AP) — An American delegation of academics and former senior officials urged the resumption of official nuclear talks during two days of informal meetings with North Korea's top nuclear envoy, a former senior U.S. diplomat said Tuesday.
The North Korean diplomat, Ri Yong Ho, repeated to reporters his country's longstanding demand that Washington and Seoul stop annual military drills that Pyongyang says are invasion preparations. The U.S. and South Korea say the drills are routine and defensive.
Neither Ri nor former U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy Stephen Bosworth said anything likely to change the deadlock between North Korea and its neighbors and Washington over Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles that could hit the American mainland. But even an informal discussion is seen as a small step forward at a time of high tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Washington and Pyongyang have no formal diplomatic ties, but former U.S. officials occasionally meet with North Korean diplomats in so-called Track Two talks to discuss the North's nuclear program and other issues.
North Korea has indicated willingness to rejoin long-stalled nuclear talks, but has balked at the U.S. demand that it first take concrete steps to show it remains committed to past nuclear pledges.
North Korea recently told the United States that it is willing to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington scraps its military drills with South Korea this year. Washington called the linking of the military drills with a possible nuclear test "an implicit threat," but said it was open to dialogue with North Korea.
Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs and has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006. But experts are divided on how far the opaque government has come in the technology needed to miniaturize a warhead so it can be placed on a missile.
Bosworth told the reporters that the U.S. side sees a "priority need to get official discussion back underway to resume a dialogue" among the Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China.
Those six-nation talks over Pyongyang's nuclear program haven't been held since late 2008. Since then North Korea has conducted nuclear and missile tests and threatened Washington and Seoul with nuclear strikes.
Ri reiterated his country's position that the "root cause that aggravates the tension on the Korean Peninsula is none other than the large-scale joint military exercise between U.S. and South Korea, which is being held annually."