North, U.S. hold bilateral on food

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North, U.S. hold bilateral on food

A day after North Korea officially announced the death of leader Kim Jong-il, it had bilateral talks with the United States about food assistance.

“It [the talk] was a technical level and was designed to make clear that we still had questions with regard to the nutritional assistance issues,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters Tuesday at a briefing in Washington.

The two countries had bilateral talks last week in Beijing to discuss U.S. assistance of 20,000 tons of nutrition every month for a year. Before Kim died, it was reported that the North told the U.S. it would consider closing its uranium enrichment program to get six-party talks restarted. Reportedly, that offer came at the same time as the meetings over food assistance.

“They did have a constructive round of discussions in Beijing last week with the DPRK interlocutors that they saw on nutritional needs and on monitoring issues,” Nuland said. “Given the mourning period, frankly, we don’t think we’ll be able to have much more clarity and resolve these issues before the New Year.”

The spokesperson said the Tuesday talks were carried out through the so-called “New York channel,” the State Department’s back-door route for meetings with North Korean delegates in the United Nations. The channel was frozen since March 2010 when the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk by North Korea (although Pyongyang denies it). It was reopened in December 2010 to negotiate a resumption of the six-party talks.

A diplomatic source in Washington told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday, “We guess the meeting was between Han Song-ryol, deputy North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, and Clifford Hart, U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also released a statement Monday.

“It is our hope that the new leadership of the DPRK will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by honoring North Korea’s commitments, improving relations with neighbors, and respecting the rights of its people,” the statement read.

By Kim Hee-jin []
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