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US, S. Korea hold first director-level talks on N. Korea: State Dept.

WASHINGTON -- US and South Korean officials met this week to coordinate efforts to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the State Department said Thursday.

The first director-general or deputy-level consultation (DLC) meeting was held in Seoul on Wednesday (Seoul time) between the US deputy special representative for North Korea, Jung Pak, and officials from South Korea's foreign and unification ministries, the presidential office and the National Security Council, according to the department.

"The two sides discussed the current situation on the Korean Peninsula; prospects for humanitarian cooperation; and coordination on DPRK issues with stakeholders in other multilateral fora, including trilateral cooperation with Japan," it said in a press release, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Later in the day, the unification ministry said the two sides also discussed inter-Korean projects the two Koreas can seek independently.

"In addition to discussing the tasks that South Korea and the US should pursue together, we also checked the tasks the two Koreas could cooperate independently on," Cha Deok-cheol, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, said during a regular press briefing, without further elaboration.

It was not immediately clear whether the prospects for humanitarian cooperation referred to possible assistance for North Korea.

Pyongyang has kept its borders shut since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year, despite claiming to have confirmed no single infection case up to date.

Recently, however, the impoverished country has cited difficulties it faces in securing enough food and COVID-19 vaccines for its population, causing many to wonder if Pyongyang is willing to accept international assistance that it had often criticized for coming with too much monitoring.

"This DLC meeting illustrated the US and ROK commitment to ongoing cooperation on DPRK issues and emphasized the importance of such coordination as we seek to advance complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula," the State Department said. ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name.

Seoul earlier said Pak and her South Korean counterparts discussed ways to resume dialogue between the United States and North Korea at an early date.

North Korea reopened its direct communication channels with South Korea last week after more than a 13-month hiatus in inter-Korean dialogue.

Pak's visit to South Korea also follows an earlier trip by her boss, Sung Kim, during which the US special representative for the DPRK said his country is ready to meet with the North "anytime, anywhere" and without preconditions.

US-North Korea dialogue have stalled since early 2019. (Yonhap)