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February 13, 2012

Few Expectations For Progress When US, North Korea Meet Again

U.S. diplomats and South Korean government officials have few expectations that the first direct talks between American and North Korean diplomats since the death of Kim Jong Il will yield a significant breakthrough.

For the first time since the leadership transition in Pyongyang, the United States and North Korea are to engage in negotiations about nuclear disarmament.

The U.S. State Department says envoy Glyn Davies will meet with North Korea's first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, on February 23 in the Chinese capital, Beijing.

Diplomats say the goal of the discussions with the North Koreans - the third round since the middle of last year - is to resume long-stalled six-nation talks about Pyongyang's nuclear programs. A key issue will be whether North Korea is willing to suspend its enrichment of uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim, speaking Tuesday to a meeting in Seoul of the Asia Society, said the international community is waiting for Pyongyang to demonstrate willingness to address the concerns about its nuclear and missile programs.

"The focus of our discussions with them - our bilateral discussion - [has] been trying to test that proposition: will the North Koreans be a serious negotiating partner if the six-party talks resume?" he said.

Direct talks between the United States and North Korea are a sensitive issue in South Korea. Pyongyang has repeatedly tried to do a diplomatic end-run around Seoul, preferring to engage American officials in hopes of achieving a diplomatic breakthrough.

The United States has repeatedly insisted that any improvement of ties can come only after diplomatic progress between the two Koreas.

North Korea does not have diplomatic ties with either Seoul or Washington.

The vice minister of South Korea's Unification Ministry, Kim Chun-sig, says his country appreciates Washington's efforts to achieve progress.

Kim says any type of diplomacy that can lead to North Korea's de-nuclearization is welcome.

Since pulling out of the multi-nation talks in 2009, the North has conducted a long-range rocket launch, a second nuclear test and it has unveiled a uranium enrichment program.

South Korea has also called for North Korea to resume contacts between their Red Cross societies. It says it wants to hold more reunions of Korean families split by the civil war in the early 1950's. Officials say they also hope Red Cross talks can lead to resolving the fate of many Korean prisoners taken by the North during the three-year Korean War.