Negotiators from the United States and North Korea kicked off talks on Monday aimed at restoring diplomatic ties. This forms part of a complex agreement emanating from the six-party talks under which Pyongyang should scrap its nuclear arms program for aid.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the US since 2000, and US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill Kim will meet today for complex talks.
Though some view these talks as historic, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack sought to play down expectations of any immediate breakthrough.
"I would expect that it ... would take some time in order for that process to be completed," McCormack told reporters in Washington earlier Monday.
"Trust must be built up followed by observing performance and today is just an initial discussion," McCormack said.
On Monday morning, Kim visited the Korea Society, remaining there for five hours in meetings with several US nuclear and Korea experts and former officials, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright.
According to a statement released after the meeting, which was jointly organized by the Korea Society and the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a range of bilateral issues were discussed by both sides in a friendly and forthcoming atmosphere.
The participants agreed that dialogue would remain essential to building a strong foundation upon which to improve relations.
Meanwhile, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Kim met with South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Chun Yung-woo last weekend.
Encouragingly, Chun announced to reporters that North Korea seemed thoroughly committed to begin dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
The long-expected bilateral talks come following the long-standing six-party talks, involving China, North Korea, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia. These ended in Beijing on Feb. 13, 2007, with a joint statement outlining the first step towards freeing the Korean Peninsula of any nuclear weaponry.
Under the document, North Korea will shut down and seal all of the Yongbyon nuclear facility and invite back IAEA personnel for all monitoring and verifications the IAEA deems necessary.
In addition, the parties have agreed to provide emergency aid to North Korea totaling 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to begin arriving within 60 days.
The normalization talks between the US and North Korea are happening ahead of Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, arriving in Pyongyang on March 13 to discuss how to best oversee the promised dismantling of nuclear facilities.
(Xinhua News Agency March 6, 2007)