GENEVA — The United States and North Korea began two days of talks here Monday that U.S. officials have said will test the ground for a possible resumption of wider discussions on North Korea’s nuclear program.
A convoy of vehicles brought Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, to the U.S. mission in Geneva exactly on schedule at 10 a.m. for the first round of talks with a team of U.S. negotiators led by President Barack Obama’s special envoy for North Korea policy, Stephen W. Bosworth.
In a statement at the end of the first day of talks, Bosworth said: “I think we are moving in a positive direction. We have narrowed some differences, but we still have differences that we have to resolve.”
His comments came after a working dinner with the North Korean delegation that he described as “very positive.” He added: “I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but as I said, we have made some progress. But we have issues still to resolve, and we will work hard to do that.”
U.S. officials said last week that the discussions were intended to determine whether North Korea was “serious about engaging in talks and fulfilling its commitments under the 2005 joint statement of the six-party talks and its nuclear, international obligations, as well as take concrete steps toward denuclearization.”
North Korea agreed in September 2005 to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for economic assistance and diplomatic incentives from other parties to the six-party talks, which include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, in addition to North Korea and the United States.
But the agreement collapsed in a dispute over how thoroughly North Korea should reveal its nuclear activities and subject its nuclear facilities to outside inspections. North Korea’s continuing nuclear activities, its testing of missiles and the lethal shelling of a South Korean island — as well as the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, which the South said was attacked by the North — all added to the chill in relations.
The Geneva meetings nonetheless follow hints of a thaw, including talks in New York in July between U.S. and North Korean officials. And on Friday, the Pentagon announced that officials had reached agreement on a resumption of the search for the remains of Americans killed in the Korean War of 1950–1953.
Also Monday, China urged North Korea, an ally, to improve its strained ties with the United States and South Korea, state media reported Monday.
The prospect of talks came amid a background of criticism that both the United States and South Korea were withholding aid for political reasons, tying it to progress in negotiations.
North Koreans, especially children, urgently need outside aid to fight “terrible levels of malnutrition,” the top U.N. humanitarian official said Monday.