BEIJING – North Korea announced Friday that it will work with Washington to resolve "differences" over restarting nuclear disarmament talks, but observers said it was too early to declare a U.S. diplomat's mission to Pyongyang a success.
The comments were North Korea's first reaction to three days of rare high-level talks with special envoy Stephen Bosworth, who arrived in Beijing on Friday to brief Chinese officials. The North's Foreign Ministry said it understands the need to resume six-party nuclear talks that the communist nation walked away from earlier this year, vowing never to return.
Though Pyongyang stopped short of making a firm commitment to return to the negotiating table, its reaction raised hopes that the disarmament process could resume.
Bosworth's trip marked the Obama administration's first high-level talks with North Korea, though the visit did not include a meeting with leader Kim Jong Il. Bosworth said after leaving the North on Thursday that the two sides reached a "common understanding" on the need to restart the nuclear negotiations.
The North echoed that Friday, adding the meetings "deepened the mutual understanding, narrowed their differences and found not a few common points."
The two sides also reached an understanding on the importance of implementing a 2005 disarmament pact, it said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The 2005 pact — negotiated in talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, the U.S. and Russia — calls for Pyongyang to end its nuclear programs in exchange for economic aid, security assurances and diplomatic recognition.
North Korea walked out of the talks earlier this year in anger over international criticism of its ambitions to develop rocket technology that eventually could be used to send a long-range missile across the Pacific.
Weeks later, it conducted a nuclear test and restarted its nuclear facilities, earning widespread condemnation and tighter U.N. sanctions. North Korea called it an issue between itself and the U.S. and demanded bilateral talks.
North Korea said the two sides "had a long exhaustive and candid discussion on wide-ranging issues" including denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, forging a peace treaty, improving bilateral relations and economic and energy assistance.
The North routinely accuses the U.S. of plotting to attack, and says it needs a nuclear arsenal to defend itself. The U.S. denies planning to invade.
Despite the apparent change in tone, at least one analyst said it was too early to call Bosworth's mission a success.
"North Korea will only return to the talks after the U.S. offers it a face-saving move or substantial rewards," said Lee Sang-hyun of the Sejong Institute, a private security think tank outside Seoul.
The Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo newspaper, considered a mouthpiece for North Korea's government, reported Friday that the North would not rejoin any multilateral nuclear talks without assurances of an end to "hostile relations between North Korea and the U.S."
In Beijing, Bosworth was to meet Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and China's nuclear envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei. He was then to head for Moscow and Tokyo.