NEW YORK (Yonhap News) ― A senior North Korean official flew into New York Tuesday for highly unusual talks with U.S. officials, voicing optimism for improved Pyongyang-Washington ties.
“I believe North Korea-U.S. relations will improve as now is the time for all countries to reconcile,” Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan told reporters as he arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport.
He added, “(I) am optimistic of the prospects for the six-way talks and the North-U.S. relationship.”
Kim Kye-gwan (Yonhap Photo)
Kim said he plans to meet with Stephen Bosworth, Washington’s point man on Pyongyang, on Thursday. It would be their first talks since Bosworth visited Pyongyang in December 2009.
But he did not provide other details, including how long he will stay in the U.S.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last week that Washington formally invited Kim for talks on ways to restart the six-nation forum on the communist nation’s nuclear program.
The talks have been deadlocked for almost three years amid repeated provocations by Pyongyang. The negotiations, hosted by China, also involve South Korea, Japan and Russia.
The resumption of high-level contact between the North and the U.S. follows rare inter-Korean denuclearization talks last week in Bali on the sidelines of the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
South Korea and the U.S. have pushed for a three-stage denuclearization process ― inter-Korean dialogue, Pyongyang-Washington talks and the six-way negotiations.
U.S. officials made clear that this week’s talks with the North are just a preliminary step to see if it is prepared for full-scale negotiations.
When asked about his impression on his first trip to New York in four years, Kim said, “There is something that has changed and also that has not.”
In Washington, the State Department kept secret a schedule for talks with Kim and the list of U.S. participants.
“We don’t have new information to release,” a department official reiterated.
Diplomatic sources said Bosworth will lead a delegation that will include Clifford Hart, known to have been named as special envoy for the six-way talks, and Robert King, special envoy for North Korea’s human rights conditions, as well as a White House official.
Kim is also reportedly scheduled to attend a forum organized by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
The NCAFP refused to disclose the date and venue for it, saying only a press conference by academics will be held at 6 p.m. Monday.