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N.K., U.S. open 1st nuke talks since Kim’s death

Feb. 23, 2012 - 11:57 By Korea Herald
BEIJING (Yonhap News) ― Senior diplomats from North Korea and the United States began talks in Beijing Thursday over the North’s nuclear weapons program that are the first such since the death of Kim Jong-il in December.

The talks, led by the North’s long-time nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan and U.S. special representative for North Korea policy Glyn Davies, are a chance to gauge whether Pyongyang’s new young leader, Kim Jong-un, is open to negotiations to get the communist regime to give up its nuclear ambition.

On Wednesday, Davies told reporters he saw “positive signs” but the possibility of resuming six-party talks over the North’s nuclear program is up to Pyongyang, reiterating a diplomatic sound bite often used by South Korean and U.S. diplomats commenting on prospects for the multilateral forum.

The six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, were last held in Beijing in late 2008.

Shortly before the death of Kim, North Korea and the U.S. appeared to be ready to announce a breakthrough that could lead to a resumption of the six-nation talks.

Last year, diplomatic efforts to get North Korea back to the negotiating table gained some momentum, but the unexpected demise of Kim put a brake on those efforts.

North Korea has not shown any signs of giving up its nuclear programs. The North recently praised its late leader for elevating the country to a nuclear state. North Korea conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, drawing international condemnation and tightened U.N. sanctions.

South Korea and the U.S. have insisted the North accept a monitored shutdown of its uranium enrichment program to show sincerity toward denuclearization before reviving the disarmament-for-aid talks.

In 2010, North Korea revealed it was running a uranium enrichment facility. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make weapons, providing Pyongyang with a second way to build nuclear bombs in addition to its existing plutonium program.