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U.S. Envoy to Hold First Talks With North Korea Since Kim Death

Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. delegation will meet with North Korea over its nuclear program on Feb. 23 in Beijing in the first such talks since the death of dictator Kim Jong Il and the succession of his son Kim Jong Un.

Obama administration special envoy Glyn Davies will meet counterpart Kim Kye Gwan to discuss whether to resume formal negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its atomic weapons program, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday in Washington. The U.S. was in talks to provide food aid before the elder Kim’s death on Dec. 17.

“They’ve had a change, so I think the question is whether they are prepared to respond to what we are looking for in order to get back to talks,” Nuland told reporters. “We thought that it was a good time to see where they are.”

International sanctions imposed after two nuclear detonations, several missile tests and deadly attacks on South Korea have failed to bring Kim’s regime back to the bargaining table. Before the talks collapsed in December 2008, the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia pledged economic and humanitarian aid in return for North Korea’s denuclearization.

Kim Jong Un, thought to be under 30, has given no indication he is prepared to alter his father’s policies to the outside world. North Korea last month criticized a U.S. offer last year for food assistance in return for abandoning its uranium enrichment program as “politicized,” while leaving open the possibility for negotiations.

Breakthrough ‘Unlikely’

“The talks will likely focus on food aid in return for North Korea stopping its uranium enrichment and missile tests,” said Park Young Ho, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “We may see some progress as Kim Jong Un needs food to cement his footing, but a meaningful breakthrough is unlikely as nuclear weapons are one of the most effective means to sustain the regime.”

Lim Sung Nam, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy said in an interview this month that he is “optimistic” that incentives by the U.S. and his country will persuade the North to return to talks.

North Korea is boosting trade with China, with which it and shares a 880-mile (1,416 kilometer) border, as food shortages have contributed to rising defections. Trade between the communist allies grew more than 20 percent in 2010 to $6.1 billion, a South Korea government report said last month. North Korea doesn’t report economic statistics.

North Korea’s gross domestic product contracted 0.5 percent to 30 trillion won ($26.7 billion) in 2010, compared with South Korea’s 1,173 trillion won, the Bank of Korea said in November. Per capita income was 1.24 million won compared with South Korea’s 24 million won.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Washington at; Eunkyung Seo in Seoul at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at

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