Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator at the Beijing-hosted multilateral meeting aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons network, said on Tuesday that the bilateral talks were held between his staff and officials from North Korea's UN mission in New York.

The talks come ahead of Hill's much-speculated trip to North Korea to push through with international efforts prodding North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme in return for security guarantees, energy aid and normalisation of relations.

"We have had contacts through the New York channel," Hill, who is also the chief US diplomat for East Asia, said, without specifying when or how many rounds of talks were held.

Direct talks

This is the first time the US has announced it had held direct meetings with North Korea since Pyongyang agreed to give up its nuclear programme at the end of the fourth round of the six-party talks in Beijing on 19 September.

"We have had contacts through the New York channel"

Christopher Hill,
chief US negotiator

The two countries do not have diplomatic relations.

On his trip to Pyongyang, which Hill has hinted at since his return from Beijing, the senior diplomat said he had "not finalised travel plans yet".

He had indicated earlier that the trip to the North Korean capital, the first in three years by a top US official, would take place before the fifth round of nuclear talks in early November.
Ahead of the next round of talks: "I would look forward to an intensified diplomatic calendar and hope to have US-DPRK contacts," Hill said.

The last time a US official visited Pyongyang was in October 2002 when Hill's predecessor, the then -assistant secretary of state James Kelly, accused the North of hiding a programme for enriching uranium, triggering the current nuclear crisis.

Disagreement

Although North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear arms in return for a range of incentives under the six-party accord, it insisted that any dismantlement would only begin after it received light-water reactors from the US to allow it to generate power under a civilian atomic scheme.

The United States maintains, however, that any discussions on a peaceful nuclear programme for North Korea can take place only after Pyongyang disbands its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Hill says he is yet to finalise his
travel plans to Pyongyang

As for other benefits, such as normalisation of relations with the US and energy aid, Hill indicated that North Korea would simultaneously receive them while dismantling its nuclear programme.

The "sequencing of various obligations" of North Korea and the other parties under the accord reached two weeks ago would be discussed in Beijing next month, Hill said, adding that the talks were going to be "tough".

"The urgent issue, the number one issue is de-nuclearisation and so, we certainly need the DPRK to be de-nuclearising.

"We understand we also have undertakings as well and in the course of the implementation and as we negotiate through the timing of the sequencing and time flow of this, we will fulfil our obligations," he said.