|North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan last met with the US in the middle of 2011 [AP]
A senior United States envoy will hold talks next week in Beijing with North Korea, resuming a dialogue put on hold last year by the death of leader Kim Jong-il, the officials in Washington have said.
Glyn Davies, the coordinator for US policy in North Korea, will meet in Beijing on February 23 with North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan, Victoria Nuland, a US government spoksperson, told reporters on Monday.
Washington has been exploring a resumption of six-nation denuclearization talks with North Korea but has insisted that Pyongyang respect a 2005 agreement to give up its atomic weapons.
It will be the third round of such bilateral talks since the middle of last year, aimed at restarting six-nation aid-for-disarmament negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program that it pulled out of in 2009.
"This is a continuation of the meetings that we've been having with North Korea to see if it is prepared to fulfill its commitment and its international obligations as well as to take concrete steps towards denuclearization," Nuland said.
The United States held two rounds of talks with North Korea last year in New York and Geneva in hopes of keeping lines of communication open, despite deep skepticism in Washington on whether the authoritarian state will ever give up its weapons.
A third round was ready in Beijing in December but was called off after the sudden death of Kim, which left the isolated and nuclear-armed country in the hands of his untested young son Kim Jong-un.
Before the planned last round, the US had been discussing a request by North Korea to resume assistance in food. The country suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s and aid groups have voiced concern about new shortages.
"Obviously, if they want to talk about nutrition and they have the answers to some of the concerns and questions that we had then we'll be prepared to hear that,'' Nuland said.
The US has said repeatedly that any decision on food aid would be driven by North Korea's need for it and US satisfaction that any aid would not be diverted to the powerful military.
The North requested the food aid more than a year ago. The last US-funded food distributions ended in 2009 after North Korea expelled staff monitoring its distribution.
Since pulling out of the six-party talks three years ago, the North has conducted a long-range rocket test and its second-ever nuclear test in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
It also has unveiled a uranium enrichment program that could give it a new means for making fissile material that could go into a nuclear weapon.