North Korea wants a second round of dialogue with the United States, possibly next month, as part of renewed efforts to restart talks on disabling the its nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said Thursday.
In a sign that the long-stalled regional talks are now firmly back in the picture, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae told reporters in Seoul that the two Koreas were closing in on agreement to reconvene the forum.
As part of the process to restart six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, officials expect shuttle diplomacy to pick up.
The South's nuclear envoy met his Chinese counterpart in Beijing Thursday and urged him to persuade the North to halt its nuclear activities to allow for the resumption of the talks, the South's Yonhap news agency reported.
Cho said the North's nuclear envoy Ri Yong-ho had also proposed another U.S.-North Korea meeting.
Yonhap quoted an unnamed South Korean official as saying that a meeting could take place in a third country, with the cities of Singapore, Berlin and Geneva among the possible choices.
North Korea is pushing to hold the next round of bilateral talks with the U.S. in Pyongyang, but Washington is strongly against it, said the senior South Korean official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Currently, the two sides are discussing the possibility of meeting in a third country.
In July, U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth held two days of talks with veteran North Korean nuclear negotiator Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan in New York, their first such interaction since 2009.
Most experts say the mercurial North is unlikely to ever give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, but the six-party process is useful as it serves to contain the nuclear program and hinders proliferation.
On Wednesday, the two Koreas' nuclear envoys met for the second time in two months in Beijing, amid a thaw in tensions on the divided peninsula.
Both sides said the talks were productive and useful, but did not produce any breakthroughs to allow for a restart of the regional nuclear talks, which the North walked out of more than two years ago.
Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang must first halt its nuclear activities, including its uranium enrichment program, and allow the return of international nuclear inspectors before talks can restart.
Our government believes the two sides were able to expand the scope of mutual understanding of each other's overall position on the nuclear issue, and has come to expect that further dialogue will lead us to reach a point of agreement, Cho said.
Analysts expect it will take a few more months of diplomacy before an agreement can be reached on restarting the regional talks which offer the impoverished North economic and energy aid in return for disabling its nuclear weapons program.
(Reporting by Jeremy Laurence in Seoul; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Sanjeev Miglani)