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N. Korean diplomats meet with ex-US officials in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, (Yonhap) -- A North Korean delegation led by its deputy foreign minister held talks with former government officials of the United States here for a second day on Saturday to discuss pending issues such as the North’s nuclear and missile tests.

The US-North Korea contact, although it is informal or unofficial, came after North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test in September, just eight months after its previous nuke test.

“I came here through Beijing,” the North’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations Jang Il-hun told Yonhap News Agency. Asked whether there was an offer from the US to stop its nuclear and missile tests, he fell short of clarifying, but said, “hopely moving forward.”

The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) is working on a fresh sanctions resolution to punish Pyongyang for its latest nuclear provocation. In March, the UNSC slapped tougher sanctions on the North for its nuclear and long-range rocket launches early in the year.

The North’s delegation is seen to be headed by its vice foreign minister Han Song-ryol, and a slew of other diplomats, while the US side includes Robert Gallucci, who negotiated a landmark 1994 nuclear freeze deal with Pyongyang, and former US deputy nuclear negotiator Joseph R. DeTrani.

Diplomatic sources said the behind-the-scene meeting, seen to be aimed at delving into each other’s stance, is rare as the communist state is vowing to continue its nuclear ambitions and missile tests, in defiance of international pressure.

On Thursday, the North test-fired a mid-range Musudan missile, although it ended in failure.

Experts in Seoul said that Han’s visit here is to explore options with the US at a time when the country is slated to pick a new president next month.

“Han may try to deliver North Korea’s message to US private experts if Pyongyang seeks to explore what conditions are needed to change the atmosphere after the US presidential election,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

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