SKorea confirms U.S. had offered direct talks with NKorea

Wednesday, September 13th 2006, 11:23 am
By: News On 6

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korea's vice foreign minister Wednesday confirmed reports that the United States had offered one-on-one talks with North Korea on the communist nation's nuclear program, but was rejected. However, a U.S. official said in Washington that no new offer of direct talks had been made to Pyongyang.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency and other media reported Tuesday that the chief U.S. nuclear envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, proposed a meeting with his North Korean counterpart during a recent stop in China. The North did not accept the offer, the reports said.

``I understand that Assistant Secretary Hill made such a gesture on his own initiative in an effort to resume'' six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told a news briefing.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing process, reiterated, however, that the United States would only see the North as part of meetings with other countries, such as the nuclear negotiations.

In South Korea, a Foreign Ministry official said Hill sent a ``message'' to the North saying he could meet North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan during a trip to China last week. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing ministry policy, and did not offer any more details.

Efforts to restart the disarmament talks have gained greater urgency in recent weeks as leaders worry about a potential North Korean nuclear weapons test and considering the North's decision to test launch seven missiles in July.

Nuclear talks _ among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States _ were last held in November, when negotiators failed to make progress on implementing a September agreement in which the North pledged to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

North Korea has refused to attend the six-party talks since last year in anger at U.S. efforts to choke off the North's access to international banking over its alleged currency counterfeiting and other wrongdoing.

Hill and Kim met in July 2005 in Beijing to negotiate the North's return to the nuclear talks, ending a previous boycott.

In April, Hill refused to meet privately with Kim in Tokyo, where all chief delegates to the six-nation talks had gathered for a private security conference, citing the North's refusal to return to the table.

The two countries also have maintained communications through the North's mission to the United Nations in New York. Washington says the channel is only for communication purposes, not negotiation.