BALI, Indonesia — The chief nuclear negotiators for South Korea and North Korea met Friday for the first time since 2008, raising hopes that after months of recriminations the countries were inching toward broader talks on ending the North’s nuclear weapons program.
The negotiators met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional forum being held in Bali, officials said.
The last time nuclear negotiators from the two Koreas had sat together was in late 2008, when delegates from six nations met for nuclear talks.
Those talks stalled amid tensions over South Korea’s harder line toward the North, U.N. sanctions imposed on the North after it launched a long-range rocket and staged its second nuclear test in 2009, and military actions by the North, including the shelling of a South Korean island in November.
“We agreed to make efforts to resume the six-party talks soon,” Ri Yong Ho of North Korea said. “The talks were conducted in a candid and sincere atmosphere.”
His South Korean counterpart, Wi Sung-lac, agreed, describing the two-hour meeting as “very constructive” and “useful.” He said the two sides would continue to work together to create a conducive atmosphere for the disarmament talks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed news of the sidelines talks as “a step forward,” his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said in New York. “The secretary-general hopes that the recent talks will help resume the six-party talks in the near future and further improve inter-Korean relations.”
The need to check the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program gained urgency after the North revealed an industrial-scale plant for enriching uranium in November. The plant showed that the North was gaining a new means to make nuclear bombs and, potentially, to spread the technology to other nations.
South Korea has insisted that the United States, China, Russia, and Japan — all parties to the talks — not give in to what it considers North Korea’s tactic of using military provocations and other tension-raising maneuvers to force the other nations to rejoin the nuclear talks under terms that favor the North.
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