Brief encounter for U.S. and North Korea
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has had a brief meeting with his North Korean counterpart -- the highest-level contact between the two sides in almost two years.
The informal meeting between Powell and Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun took place Wednesday on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in the oil rich sultanate of Brunei.
The 15-minute encounter had not been scheduled and was described as "spontaneous" by U.S. officials who said the brief "informal chat" was very much a two-way dialogue.
The annual ARF security meeting brings together the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with foreign ministers from across Asia, the United States and representatives from the European Union.
The meeting was the first high-level contact between U.S. and North Korean officials since President George W. Bush branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address in January.
As North Korea embarks on a fresh spurt of diplomacy, also courting Japan, word is leaking out that the secretive state is slowly dismantling a 50-year-old pillar of its socialist economy. (Full story)
According to U.S. officials, the meeting came about after Powell's staff let the North Korean delegation know that the secretary of state was in a lounge reserved for senior delegates beside the ASEAN meeting room.
Paek then entered the room shortly after and the two men sat down for a conversation.
Commenting on the meeting State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the North Koreans had indicated they would welcome further high-level talks with the United States.
From the American point of view he said that Powell had "noted the recent statement" made by Pyongyang expressing regret over the June 29 naval clash with South Korea, in which five South Korean sailors were killed. (Full story)
In addition Boucher said the secretary of state had reaffirmed the Bush administration's policy that any future discussions would have to focus on several key issues.
These include U.S. concerns over weapons proliferation, compliance with previous agreements between the two governments and the deployment of conventional forces.
Boucher said no plans had yet been made for further meetings between the two sides.
"As for follow-on meetings or travel, we would consider the statements the North Koreans made," he said.
Relations between the United States and North Korea peaked in October 2000 when Powell's predecessor Madeleine Albright traveled to Pyongyang and held talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
However, contact between the two sides was abruptly halted following the change of administration in Washington when Bush ordered a thorough review of relations with the secretive communist state.
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