NEW YORK - The United States and North Korea on Thursday began exploratory talks in which Washington is looking for concrete signs that Pyongyang is ready to discuss its nuclear program after a more than two-year hiatus.
The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, sat down with veteran North Korean nuclear negotiator Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York for discussions that would continue on Friday.
"Today's discussions have been serious and businesslike. We look forward to continuing our meetings tomorrow," the State Department said in a statement.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner underscored that the talks were exploratory and Washington aimed to gauge Pyongyang's willingness to take real steps to ease tensions and reengage in aid-for-disarmament negotiations.
"We're quite clear, broadly, on what we're looking for, which is for North Korea to live up to its commitments ... it needs to take concrete steps toward denuclearization," Toner told a news briefing in Washington.
U.S. officials have stressed they will not rush back into talks that were last held under the Bush administration in late 2008.
Crowds of journalists jostled outside the U.S. mission to the United Nations as the U.S. and North Korean teams arrived, but neither side commented publicly on talks which carry diplomatic risks for each.
North Korea quit the six-party process -- which also includes China, Japan, Russia and South Korea -- after the isolated state's 2009 nuclear test was met with U.N. Security Council sanctions. It also tested an atomic device in 2006.
A 2005 document signed by the six countries spelled out a process in which North Korea would scrap its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and energy aid and diplomatic relations with the United States and Japan.
North Korea has set out some terms of its own, repeating its calls for a peace treaty to replace the truce that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.
The current talks follow signs that tensions between North Korea and South Korea are easing since two attacks last year blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans.
South Korea has softened its demand for an apology from North Korea over the 2010 attacks as the precondition for resuming dialogue.
Foreign ministers from the two sides met on the sidelines of an Asian security conference in Indonesia on Saturday for the first time since 2008.
The United States and China, North Korea's sole ally and main aid donor, have agreed on a three-stage process to resume the six-party talks. The first stage is the two Koreas engaging bilaterally, the second involves talks between the North and the United States, and the third stage is the six-party talks.
Toner said North Korea's human rights record could also be discussed at the talks, and that Washington had yet to decide on resuming food aid to North Korea which says more than 6 million people are in urgent need of assistance.
"We've made no decisions on food aid," Toner said. Washington continues to study the findings of a U.S. team which visited North Korea in May to assess its possible food needs, he added.