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Official: U.S., N. Korea hold backdoor talks

Pyongyang has refused to return to talks on nuclear weapons


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Kim Jong Il and U.S. officials have traded inflammatory barbs recently.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. and North Korean officials met Monday in New York, almost a month after the United States asked North Korea to return to six-way talks aimed at ending its nuclear program, the U.S. State Department said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed the meeting, which took place at the North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York.

McCormack said lead U.S. envoy to North Korea, Joseph DeTrani, and Jim Foster, director of the State Department's Korea Office, attended the meeting for the U.S. side.

They met North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Gil-Yon, and his deputy, Han Song Ryul.

The talks took place through what is commonly referred to as the "New York channel," where mid-level U.S. and North Korean officials meet on the sidelines of the United Nations, he said.

McCormack -- who was in Fort Lauderdale with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a meeting of the Organization of American States -- said North Korea called the State Department last week to request the meeting.

Last month, DeTrani met North Korean officials in New York, where he reiterated U.S. desires for North Korea to return to the negotiating table with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

It has been a year since the last round of six-way talks.

"Diplomacy is still the way -- with the six-party talks. Everybody agrees on that. The next thing is to try and get everyone back to the table," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday.

In February, Pyongyang declared it had nuclear weapons and would continue boycotting the six-party talks unless Washington agreed to one-on-one talks.

The Bush administration has refused to do so, saying the issue affects the entire region and that the other parties should be included.

Meanwhile, Bush administration officials have taken issue with statements from a senior Defense Department official who told reporters Sunday that the Bush administration probably would decide within weeks whether to push for U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

"Rice rebutted that. [President] Bush has said [there's] no timetable," one official said. "But the U.N. Security Council option is on the table."

Traveling in Thailand, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also disagreed with the defense official's reported remarks.

"The president has stated what the policy is, the secretary of state has stated it, and I have stated it," he said. "And it's all exactly the same, so I think the stories that have been playing are just inaccurate and mischievous." (Full story)

Last week, North Korea vowed not to return to the nuclear bargaining table unless it received an apology from the United States for remarks about its leadership.

Vice President Dick Cheney called North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "one of the world's most irresponsible leaders" in a May 30 interview with CNN. (Full story)

In response, North Korea said Cheney "is hated as the most cruel monster and bloodthirsty beast," according to a report carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Elise Labott contributed to this article.


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