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U.S. says it wants continued talks with N. Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) -- The U.S. government said Wednesday that it is willing to have a continued dialogue with North Korea on possible food aid and the resumption of the six-way nuclear talks even after the death of the communist nation‘s leader last week.

North Korea and the U.S. had working-level discussions through the New York channel, which refers to Pyongyang’s mission to the United Nations, on Monday, soon after the secretive regime announced the sudden demise of Kim Jong-il, according to the U.S. State Department.

It is unusual for the department to disclose such diplomatic contact with the North. Diplomatic sources said Clifford Hart, the U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks, had phone talks with Han Song-ryol, North Korea‘s deputy ambassador to the U.N.

“We reiterated in that contact the information that we’re still seeking to enable us to make decisions on nutritional assistance and also what our expectations would be preparatory to whether we could schedule another round of bilateral talks, let alone move back to six-party (negotiations),” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a press briefing.

The two sides had talks in Beijing last week on the terms of U.S. food aid, mainly ways to secure transparency in distribution.

News reports suggested that Pyongyang and Washington had scheduled a third round of high-level talks in the Chinese capital this week following the two previous ones in July and October.

But Kim‘s death apparently derailed the plan, if true.

“Obviously, we want to continue working on these issues. We’ve made clear to the DPRK the information that we are still seeking,” Nuland said.

She said she expects no talks with North Korea until the end of the mourning period. Kim‘s state funeral is slated for Dec. 28.

“We are also appreciative that this is not a moment in Pyongyang where we’re likely to have fresh instructions until after the mourning period,” she said.

In a separate press briefing, the White House said it is closely monitoring what is happening in North Korea.

“Kim Jong-il had designated Kim Jong-un as his official successor and at this time we have no indication that that has changed,” press secretary Jay Carney said, referring to the third son of the late leader.

It marked the first time that a senior U.S. government official formally mentioned the name of the new leader amid speculation over the North‘s future leadership system.

“We hope that the new leadership will support peace and prosperity and a better future for its people and that it will abide by its commitments on denuclearization,” Carney said.

President Barack Obama has not issued his own statement on North Korea over its leader’s death.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Webb, a leading voice on Asia policy in the Senate, lauded the Obama administration for its handling of the situation.

“North Korea is entering what could be a precarious transition period,” said the Democratic from Virgina, who heads the Senate foreign relations subcommittee on East Asia.

”I feel comfortable that the President and members of his administration, including PACOM Commander Robert Willard, are following these events with great care,“ he added in comments emailed to Yonhap News Agency.