North says Koreas work toward nuclear talks
North Korea's top nuclear envoy says the two Koreas have agreed to work together to resume stalled disarmament talks.
Ri Yong Ho met face-to-face with his South Korean counterpart, Wi Sung-lac, on the sidelines of Asia's largest security forum Friday in Bali.
The meeting was the first between nuclear envoys from the two sides since six-party talks collapsed in 2008.
Yonhap quoted Ri as saying: "We agreed to make efforts to resume the six-party talks soon."
North Korea had walked out to protest international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch. But it has indicated willingness recently to return to the table. It stands to get badly needed aid and other concessions if it does.
Also on the sidelines of of the conference, Indonesia, North and South Korea resumed long-stalled talks, and China and its neighbours reached a draft agreement to peacefully resolve competing territorial claims in the strategic South China Sea.
American officials expressed cautious hope that discussions between Seoul and Pyongyang could help relaunch nuclear disarmament negotiations with the North, and in a meeting with her Chinese counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the maritime deal.
The U.S. and China are major players with significant stakes in the resumption of dialogue between North and South Korea as well as six-nation talks aimed at convincing the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Ri said he and his South Korean counterpart agreed to work together to quickly restart the nuclear talks. He said the meeting was conducted in a "candid and sincere" atmosphere, Yonhap news agency reported.
Talks 'productive' and 'helpful'
Wi, who described the talks as "productive" and "helpful," confirmed the agreement, and said he and Ri would continue their efforts, according to Yonhap.
North Korea, which stands to get badly needed aid and other concessions if it returns to the six-party talks, has indicated in recent months that it might be ready.
North Korea's main ally, China, has been pressing for a speedy resumption of the talks but the U.S. and others have held out, saying that meaningful North-South dialogue must occur first. A senior U.S. official said Washington was pleased to see the North and South getting together again, but added it would take time determine whether the rapprochement was enough to warrant a return to the table.
Clinton told Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi that she was eager to discuss with him "our mutual desire for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula" but offered no hint on whether the U.S. would agree to resume the nuclear talks.
Yang, however, signalled China's intense interest in getting things back on track.
"Anything we can do together to promote better atmosphere and good dialogue among the parties concerned and to work together to restart the six-party talks would be in the best interests of peace, stability and security of the region," he said.
The disarmament talks have been stalled since 2008, when North Korea walked out to protest international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch. Tensions between the North and South have remained testy ever since.