The United States said Friday it will consult with South Korea and other countries involved in formal talks to end North Korea's nuclear arms program after wrapping up two days of exploratory discussions with diplomats from the North.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan emerged from Friday's meeting characterizing the discussions as positive and expressing hope for continued talks. "We continue to maintain contacts," Kim said.
But U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration's top envoy on North Korean affairs, said before deciding on any next steps, "the United States will consult closely with the Republic of Korea and other partners in the six-party talks."
The United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia have been negotiating since 2003 with Pyongyang to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang pulled out of the six-party talks in April 2009 after being censured for launching a long-range missile, and it vowed never to return.
Diplomats at the South Korean mission to the U.N. could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
This week's high-level meetings have raised hopes of a breakthrough in resuming the disarmament negotiations.
Both sides used the same phrase, "constructive and businesslike," to describe the mood of the meetings Thursday and Friday at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
But neither side indicated if the talks had in any way satisfied American hopes of gauging whether the North is willing to exchange its atomic weapons program for better relations with the U.S. and its neighbors.
Some analysts are skeptical about whether the North would give up its nuclear program, especially since it conducted a second nuclear test and revealed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it another way to make nuclear bombs since the last formal six-party talks in 2008.
"I didn't expect anything from these talks with North Korea and they have fully met my expectations," said John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the most recent Bush administration.
Bosworth said that the U.S. stressed to North Korea that more meetings could be held to improve relations with their regional neighbors and the United States if the North "demonstrates through its actions that it supports the resumption of the six-party process as a committed and constructive partner."
Pyongyang has recently expressed a willingness to rejoin the talks. But Seoul and Washington have insisted that inter-Korean ties must improve first following two attacks that killed 50 South Koreans last year.
This week's discussions aimed to build on last week's surprise discussions between nuclear negotiators from North and South Korea on the sidelines of a regional security gathering in Indonesia, the first such meeting since disarmament talks were last held in December 2008. The arms talks collapsed shortly afterward.
During this week's exploratory meetings, the U.S. was looking to determine if North Korea is ready to fulfill its commitments under a 2005 joint declaration requiring the North to abandon all nuclear weapons programs and allow the return of international weapons inspectors.
In exchange, Pyongyang would get better relations with its Asian neighbors, energy assistance, and a pledge from Washington that its troops won't attack the North.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited the North Korean vice foreign minister to New York after what U.S. officials described as a constructive meeting. But she said the U.S. wouldn't reward the North for just returning to the table or promising to uphold old agreements.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington that the U.S. delegation on Friday was comprised of seven people, including North Korean human rights specialist Robert King, who was not at the Thursday session.
The two sides met for about five hours on Thursday and another three hours on Friday, continuing to talk through a working lunch inside the mission.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.