(Japan Times) – A group of former U.S. diplomats held closed-door talks at the weekend with senior Pyongyang officials, even as international efforts gather pace to further isolate North Korea, diplomatically and economically.
The two-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur, which was confirmed by the South Korean and U.S. governments, was the latest in a series of unofficial talks commonly referred to as Track 2 that are closely monitored in the absence of any official contact between Washington and Pyongyang.
In July, the North cut off its only remaining official channel of diplomatic communications with the United States in retaliation for American sanctions against its leader, Kim Jong Un.
The so-called “New York channel” had previously served as a key point of contact between North Korean and U.S. diplomats at the United Nations.
American participants at the talks in the Malaysian capital included Robert Gallucci, who had led the U.S. negotiating team that brokered a 1994 deal with Pyongyang on freezing its nuclear weapons program.
Among those on the North Korean side was Vice Foreign Minister Han Song Ryol, who previously served as deputy ambassador to the U.N.
The meeting came after North Korea on Thursday test-fired a powerful new medium-range missile and Leon Sigal, an academic specializing in the Koreas who attended the talks, said the North’s nuclear weapons program had dominated the discussion.
Sigal told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency that the North had reiterated the need to sign a peace treaty with the United States before moving on its weapons program.
The U.S. side stressed that the moves to scrap the nuclear program had to come first, said Sigal.
Under President Barack Obama, the United States has eschewed an official dialogue with the North, but with a looming change in the White House, there is growing speculation as to whether a new administration might adopt a different track.
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