North Korean officials sounded upbeat Wednesday after three days of talks in Germany with former U.S. officials on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and disputes between the two nations.
The six-person North Korean contingent was led by Ri Gun, the director general of the North American affairs bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and his deputy Choe Son Hui.
Prior to flying home, Ri told reporters the meetings had been "honest and sincere exchanges" and that they had "agreed to achieve our common goal through communication."
"Both North Korea and the United States were able to exchange our opinions unofficially," he told reporters. "We need to resolve our concerns through dialogue and negotiation."
He said because the meetings were unofficial he would not elaborate, and took no questions.
Five nations _ China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Russia _ had been negotiating since 2003 to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and other concessions. Pyongyang pulled out of the talks about two years ago after being censured for launching a long-range rocket.
North Korea and China have made recent calls to resurrect the negotiations.
But South Korea and the United States say North Korea must demonstrate a commitment to denuclearization before any negotiations can resume. Seoul also wants a show of regret for two deadly incidents South Korea blames on the North: the sinking of a warship a year ago and an artillery attack on a front-line island in November.
In Germany, the two sides met at a secluded castle from Sunday through Tuesday for the talks behind closed doors, said Charles King Mallory, executive director of the Aspen Institute think tank, which organized the gathering.
The American delegation was led by Tom Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department. There was no official U.S. government involvement.
In addition to the denuclearization issue, the two sides talked about the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations, conventional disarmament, economic cooperation and economic assistance to North Korea, and the possibility of concluding a peace treaty that would finally settle the Korean War, Mallory said.
The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. The U.S. has 28,500 troops in the South to guard against aggression _ a presence that Pyongyang cites as a main factor behind its need to build a nuclear program.
Mallory would not elaborate on the talks, saying it had been agreed that the North Korean delegation would make the only statement.