US Says ‘Path Open’ for North Korea to Return to Nuke Talks

Posted January 17th, 2012 at 11:30 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States says “a path is open” for North Korea to return to stalled six-party talks on its nuclear program.

Senior diplomatic officials from the U.S., South Korea and Japan met Tuesday in Washington to coordinate the next steps in the nuclear talks following last month's death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and special North Korea envoy Glyn Davies hosted Lim Sung Nam, South Korea's top negotiator to the talks, and his Japanese counterpart, Shinsuke Sugiyama.

The U.S. State Department described the meeting as “productive.” It said the the three countries reaffirmed their commitment to a six-nation 2005 agreement that called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid.

In 2009, North Korea walked out of the negotiations, which also involved South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

Before his death in December, Kim Jong Il expressed a desire to return to the talks. But he rejected preconditions set by U.S. officials that North Korea must suspend its uranium enrichment program and allow U.N. inspectors back into the country.

Analysts say North Korea's perpetual food shortages may induce its leaders to return to the six-party talks. The U.S. suspended its food assistance program in early 2009, partially because of concerns the food was being diverted to North Korea's military or members of its political elite.

The State Department on Tuesday also called for improved relations between North and South Korea. Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula since 2010, when Pyongyang shelled a South Korean island and was accused of torpedoing one of Seoul's warships.