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North Korean team leaves for talks with US

21 february 2012, 16:14
North Korea's delegation left for talks about its nuclear programme with the United States Tuesday, in what will be the first significant contact by the two sides since the death of leader Kim Jong-Il, AFP reports.

The team headed by First Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan departed to attend "high-level talks" with the US, the state news agency said in a one-sentence report.

Kim will meet Glyn Davies, coordinator for US policy on North Korea, in Beijing Thursday for discussions expected to provide clues about policy directions under Pyongyang's new leaders.

The bilateral meeting will be the third since last July. The two sides had been scheduled to meet in December but the plan was shelved after Kim's death on December 17.

Kim's youngest son Jong-Un has taken over but the regime has warned the world not to expect major policy changes.

The US and North Korea will discuss a possible resumption of six-nation talks on the North's nuclear disarmament which were last held in December 2008.

Pyongyang wants an unconditional return to dialogue. Washington says it must first show sincerity, for example by shutting down a uranium enrichment plant which could give it a second way to make atomic bombs.

North Korea said last month that the United States had offered food aid and a suspension of sanctions if it halts its enrichment programme.

The comments by a Pyongyang foreign ministry spokesman suggested that a deal was still on the cards if the US raises the amount of food it is willing to offer.

The official US position is that any decision to provide humanitarian aid is not linked to nuclear negotiations.

The six-way talks group includes China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States. They reached a denuclearisation deal in 2005 but this lapsed amid mutual accusations of bad faith.

The North staged two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, and is thought to have enough plutonium for perhaps six to eight nuclear weapons.

The United States has also told North Korea to improve relations with South Korea before any substantive dialogue.

Pyongyang's new leadership has taken a hostile tone with its neighbour, threatening "merciless" retaliation Monday for Seoul's artillery drill near their disputed sea border.

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