The United States' first sit-down negotiations with North Korea since its new and untested leader took over made some progress although Kim Jong-un's ascent to power did not appear to have altered the North's positions, a U.S. envoy said on Friday.
After the two days of talks in Beijing ended, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies told reporters that the negotiations had covered nuclear non-proliferation, North Korea's demands for food aid and other issues at the heart of regional tension.
I think we made a little bit of progress. I think what we have to do is evaluate it, he said, adding that he would head to South Korea and then Japan to brief officials there.
Davies doused down any speculation of dramatic turns in the long-running standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, which has brought two atomic test blasts.
I think the word 'breakthrough' goes way too far, folks. I wouldn't want anybody using the word 'breakthrough', he said.
For diplomacy to succeed and move forward, sometimes you don't need drama, he added. Sometimes what you need is just step by step progress.
This week's meeting was the third between Washington and Pyongyang officials in the last eight months, and the first since the death last December of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un, who is in his late twenties.
The talks are aimed at laying the groundwork for renewed six-party disarmament negotiations with North Korea, whose ties with South Korea have deteriorated, especially after deadly attacks on the South in 2010.
The leadership handover in North Korea did not seem to alter its negotiating team or their ways, said Davies.
I wouldn't point to any dramatic differences in how they presented their views, in how they dealt with the points that we made, he said, when asked about the impact of the leadership change.
I didn't have sitting across the table from me a new cast or a new set of officials. They're very much the same men and women that we have been dealing with in the past.
North Korea agreed to curtail its nuclear activities under a an aid-for-denuclearisation agreement reached in September 2005 at six-party talks bringing together North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Under the agreement, the North agreed to abandon its nuclear programmes in exchange for economic and diplomatic incentives to be provided by the other parties in the negotiations.
But the deal was never fully implemented. Instead, the North staged two nuclear test blasts -- in 2006 and 2009 -- and later disclosed a uranium enrichment programme, giving it a second path to obtaining fissile material for bombs in addition to its long-standing programme of producing plutonium.
The United States, South Korea and their allies have been sceptical of North Korea's assertions that it wants to return to the six-party talks. One major concession the North is seeking is U.S. food aid for its chronically hungry population.
Davies said he could not give details of the progress made until he had met other governments and officials in Washington. But the North's willingness to meet was a good sign, he said.
The mere fact that -- and I said this when I first came here -- that relatively soon after the political change in North Korea, the DPRK was willing to sit down with us and go over all of these issues in some depth, I think in and of itself is positive, he said.
The DPRK, or Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is the official name of North Korea.
(Additional reporting by Jimmy Guan; Editing by Robert Birsel)