SEOUL, South Korea – A summit between the two Koreas should help resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear programs, a South Korean official said, as an envoy for the North met with a U.S. government negotiator in likely pursuit of bilateral talks with Washington.
North Korea's No. 2 nuclear negotiator, Ri Gun, has traveled to the U.S. on the invitation of private organizations and met on Saturday in New York with the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Sung Kim, a State Department spokesman said.
Kim conveyed "our position on denuclearization and the six-party talks," spokesman Noel Clay said in a statement.
The U.S. says it is willing to have direct talks with the North if it leads to resumption of six-party talks aimed at halting North Korea's nuclear weapons programs that also include South Korea, China, Russia and Japan. The South also says that progress on efforts to rid the reclusive regime of its nuclear arsenal is key to a summit between the Korean leaders taking place.
The North's reported push for a summit and talks with Washington is part of a series of conciliatory moves by the regime in recent months after escalating tensions with nuclear and missile tests.
Analysts have said the moves show North Korea feels the pain of U.N. sanctions following its May nuclear test.
North Korea and the United States do not have diplomatic relations. Ri was given permission to visit the U.S. for unofficial meetings that include the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a forum sponsored by the University of California-San Diego.
Clay said that Kim and principal deputy assistant secretary of defense, Derek J. Mitchell, would participate in the San Diego forum which begins on Sunday. The sessions will also include government officials and scholars from China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.
As the North's negotiator prepared for his U.S. trip, South Korean media reported that senior officials of the two Koreas met in Singapore last week to discuss a possible meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
North Korea first asked for the meeting, but the talks ended without agreement as the South demanded that the reclusive Kim visit the South, and the North balked at the demand citing security concerns, South Korea's largest television network KBS reported Thursday. It cited an unidentified South Korean official.
South Korean officials have declined to confirm the reports, but Lee Dong-kwan, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said Saturday a summit "should be helpful to progress in the resolution of North Korea's nuclear issue."
The South's officials stress that progress in international efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons programs is key to such a summit taking place.
"Our government's position remains unchanged that we would not hold a meeting for meeting's sake," Lee said in comments posted on South Korea's presidential Web site.
North Korea's Kim has held summits with the South twice: the first in 2000 with the South's then-President Kim Dae-jung and the other in 2007 with then-President Roh Moo-hyun.
Relations between the two Koreas frayed badly after the more conservative Lee took office early last year. North Korea pulled out of the six-party disarmament talks in April, but Kim Jong Il said earlier this month that the North could rejoin them depending on progress in its possible one-on-one negotiations with the U.S.