U.S. top negotiator on North Korean affairs Glyn Davies is pictured Sunday in Geneva on the eve of a second round of rare direct talks.
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U.S. top negotiator on North Korean affairs Glyn Davies is pictured Sunday in Geneva on the eve of a second round of rare direct talks.

Story highlights

NEW: "We are moving in a positive direction," U.S. special representative says

The decision to have talks stems in part from North-South meetings

The last full round of six-party talks was in 2008

Glyn Davies will replace Stephen Bosworth as special envoy

Washington CNN —  

U.S. officials held a “positive” meeting Monday with a North Korean delegation in an effort to restart talks with the reclusive nation over ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy said.

The decision by the United States to launch the two days of discussions in Geneva, Switzerland, stems in part from recent meetings between North Korea and South Korea, a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Afghanistan last week.

“We are moving in a positive direction,” U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth said from the Kempinski Hotel in Geneva after the meeting concluded. “We have narrowed some differences but we still have differences that we have to resolve.”

The day started with both nations presenting their positions on the resumption of talks. Clifford Hart, U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks on North Korea, called the presentations “useful.”

The groups also dined together for dinner before adjourning for the night, said Bosworth, who is leading the U.S. delegation. The North Korean delegation is led by First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, Hart said.

Discussions will continue Tuesday.

“As you know our goal is to find a solid foundation on which to launch a resumption of discussions both bilateral and multilateral and we will continue to work hard to bring that about,” Bosworth said.

At a previous meeting between the two countries in July, Washington laid out a list of things it was looking for from Pyongyang to demonstrate its seriousness about abandoning its nuclear ambitions, the State Department official told reporters last week.

One of the things the United States was seeking is North Korean engagement with South Korea, the official said, adding that a recent “constructive meeting” between the two countries helped get the parties to this point.

The official said there is concern that if the United States or South Korea do not engage with North Korea, it could lead to miscalculation or provocations on the part of North Korea.

The official said the meeting in Geneva would give the United States an opportunity to see how the North Koreans absorbed what the Americans laid out in July, and what North Korea’s intentions are.

Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the meetings “exploratory” in nature.

“We are not seeking to have talks for talks’ sake,” Toner said. It’s “safe to say we are looking for concrete actions” by North Korea before resuming the six-party talks, which have been dormant since 2008, Toner said.

The six-party talks are a vehicle launched under former President George W. Bush to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear program. They involve both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia. At various points, progress seemed to be made, only to have North Korea either pull out over disagreements on verifiable declarations of their nuclear program or engage in what some U.S. officials described as belligerent behavior that scuttled the talks.

The United States has been in contact on a regular basis with all sides involved in the six-party talks, Toner said.

Washington has called repeatedly for Pyongyang to undertake a series of prerequisite steps, such as halting missile and nuclear tests, and further development of nuclear weapons, to show it is interested in coming back to talks.

At a news conference this month with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “If Pyongyang continues to ignore its international obligations, it will invite even more pressure and isolation. If the North abandons its quest for nuclear weapons and moves towards denuclearization, it will enjoy greater security and opportunity for its people.”

After taking office in 2009, Obama was met with a set of provocations. North Korea test-fired missiles and conducted a new round of nuclear tests. A small opening toward the resumption of talks was reversed after North Korea was accused of sinking a South Korean naval vessel in the Yellow Sea, followed by their artillery shelling of a South Korean island in November 2010 in which two civilians were killed.

Bosworth will step down from his position after the meetings and will be succeeded by Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources said.

The State Department did not give a specific reason for Bosworth’s decision to step down, but Toner said he believes it is a “personal” decision. In addition to his role at the State Department, Bosworth has also maintained his position on the faculty at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University outside Boston.

Hart, a foreign policy adviser to the U.S. Navy and an expert on China and Taiwan, will become the new chief U.S. negotiator to the six-party talks and will report to Davies in his new role.

CNN Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.