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US, North Korea to Hold Talks Next Week

Senior U.S. and North Korean diplomats will meet in New York next week to discuss initial steps toward normalizing relations. The creation of the bilateral U.S.-North Korea working group is part of the six-party Korean nuclear agreement reached February 13 in Beijing. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

State Department officials are cautioning against a breakthrough at the New York meeting, but the fact it is occurring reflects a thaw in U.S.-North Korean ties following the February 13 accord.

The Beijing agreement, in its first phase, provides for emergency energy aid to North Korea in exchange for the shut down of its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

North Korea is to eventually receive up to a million tons of fuel oil or in-kind aid for the irreversible dismantling of its nuclear program, as well as political benefits including the normalization of relations with Washington.

The first step in that bilateral process will be the New York talks next Monday and Tuesday involving U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Kim Kye-Kwan, who represented their countries in the six-party talks.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed plans for the first working group meeting, which was required within 30 days of the February 13 agreement. In a talk with reporters, he stressed its preliminary nature.

"It is really a first meeting and first set of discussions," he said. "There will be some organizational issues, agenda-setting issues that they will tackle. So do not look at it as a meeting that is going to produce immediate results. Nobody is going come out the front door and wave a piece of paper with some agreement on it. But it is a good-faith act in implementing the agreement that was signed in Beijing, and we look forward to those consultations."

McCormack said that before traveling to New York, the North Korean envoy will visit San Francisco, where he is expected to deliver a university address and meet with non-governmental groups.

Travel by North Korean diplomats in the United States is normally restricted to within a short distance from New York, where Pyongyang has a mission to the United Nations.

Spokesman McCormack declined to specify what the United States may know about the degree of North Korean compliance thus far with the nuclear deal, including the shutdown and sealing of the Yongbyon site.

But he said it is notable that North Korea has invited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed elBaradei to Pyongyang to discuss monitoring of the process, and said there will be public benchmarks for North Korean compliance.

The participants in the six-party talks, including South Korea, Japan and Russia as well as North Korea, the United States and host China, are to hold a ministerial level meeting within 60 days of the Beijing accord to review progress.