In a small but symbolic step, the United States and North Korea held high-level discussions at the State Department for the first time Wednesday, including talk of a possible exchange of diplomats.
The meeting appeared to have been facilitated by North Korea’s agreement last Friday, after 19 months of deliberations, to open negotiations on a peace treaty for the Korean peninsula. The United States and South Korea set forth the proposal in April 1996.
After six hours of meetings Wednesday, the State Department called the talks “businesslike” but indicated there were no breakthroughs. The North Koreans thanked the U.S. side for the food aid provided by the Clinton administration.
Leading the respective delegations were U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charles Kartman and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan. At the conclusion of the talks, Kim declined comment.
Kim and Kartman had met before but always in the more neutral setting of the United Nations. Wednesday’s meeting at the State Department suggests a somewhat a greater intimacy between the two countries, which have long had a bitter rivalry. North Korea remains on the U.S. list of countries said to engage in state-sponsored terrorism.
A State Department summation of the meeting said the subjects included cooperation on the return of the remains of dead American servicemen in Korea, the establishment of liaison offices in the two capitals, missile proliferation and terrorism.
Washington and Pyongyang have talked for more than two years about opening diplomatic offices. The State Department account said “technical issues” remain to be resolved before the offices can open.
As for the proliferation issue, the United States has been concerned about indications of North Korean development of missiles capable of reaching Japan and of past missile sales by Pyongyang to Iran and Syria.
The United States and North Korea have met previously on missile proliferation but no dates were set for a resumption of these talks.
Before the meeting, Pentagon officials had said they saw the encounter as an opportunity to discuss obtaining an accounting of the more than 8,000 American servicemen still missing from the Korean War.
Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s POW-MIA Office, said U.S. officials intended to press the North Koreans for permission to interview four U.S. Army veterans who deserted their units in South Korea in the 1960s and are believed to be living in North Korea.