US, SKorean envoys discuss 'next steps' on NKorea

US and South Korean defense chiefs and top diplomats discussed the "next steps" to take on the Korean peninsula following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, US officials said Thursday.

South Korea's top nuclear envoy Lim Sung-Nam held "constructive, substantive" talks in Washington on Wednesday with Glyn Davies, the US special representative for North Korea policy, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"They discussed a wide variety of issues, including next steps in the Korean Peninsula," she told reporters without elaborating.

South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-Jae said Tuesday the pair would discuss "the current state of the Korean Peninsula after Kim Jong-Il's death and discuss coordination to make progress on the North's nuclear issue."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta meanwhile spoke by telephone Thursday with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-Jin, about the Korean developments.

The pair, who spoke for about 20 minutes, "shared the view that peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula is our overarching priority and agreed to maintain close cooperation and coordination in the weeks and months ahead," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.

Lim met with China's chief nuclear envoy Wu Dawei in Beijing last week for talks about how to respond to the sudden demise of North Korea's longtime ruler on December 17.

The six-party talks on the North's nuclear weapons program -- chaired by China and involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia -- have been at a standstill since the last round in December 2008.

Pyongyang stormed out in April 2009 in protest against what it described as US hostility, and staged its second nuclear test about a month later.

The North and China have expressed a wish to return to the forum without preconditions. But Washington and Seoul have insisted the North should show sincerity in denuclearization and ease tensions with the South.

Negotiations to resume the talks had appeared to be making progress before Kim's death, with reports Pyongyang would bow to a key US demand that it suspend its uranium enrichment program in return for food aid from the United States.

Nuland confirmed that Robert King, the special US envoy for human rights who traveled earlier this year to North Korea to explore possibilities for food assistance, attended the meeting with Lim and Davies.

"We are continuing to talk about the humanitarian situation in the DPRK," she said, referring to the North.

© 2011 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Dec 30, 2011