Seoul: The US special envoy on North Korea on Wednesday met with a top South Korean official for talks on easing tensions over Pyongyang`s nuclear programme and a deadly attack on a South Korean island.
Stephen Bosworth`s visit came six weeks after the North shelled the frontier island of Yeonpyeong, killing four South Koreans, including two civilians, and sending tensions in the region to their highest level in years.
Details of the talks were not made public but a foreign ministry spokesman said earlier that Bosworth and the South Korean side would "assess the current situation regarding North Korea`s nuclear development and future response".
Bosworth was also scheduled to meet with Unification Minister Hyun In-taek before heading to Beijing later Wednesday. He is expected in Tokyo on Thursday.
Bosworth on Tuesday called for "serious negotiations" as a central strategy to deal with the communist state, as he arrived in Seoul for talks with South Korea`s chief nuclear negotiator, Wi Sung-lac, and foreign minister Kim Sung-Hwan.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that the United States had made clear that it was open to dialogue with the North.
"But as we`ve said many times, we have to be assured that that dialogue would be constructive, and we don`t just want to have talks for talks` sake."
He said the United States wanted to see a reduction of tension between North and South, an end to North Korean provocation, and a seriousness of purpose with respect to its obligations under a 2005 agreement on denuclearisation.
"We did have a spike in tension towards the end of the year. We have noted that that tension has eased somewhat, but the underlying issues are still there," he said.
Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying Tuesday that any resumption in the six-nation talks on ending North Korea`s nuclear weapons programme should be preceded by two-way talks between North and South.
He said the United States, Japan, China, Russia and the South -- the five other members of the long-stalled six-party talks, agreed that negotiations between the two Koreas should be a starting point for resuming dialogue.
"The six-party talks will take place only when North Korea agrees to discuss the nuclear issue with the South and prove its willingness for denuclearisation through actions," he said.
The North has refused to discuss the nuclear issue directly with the South, saying it only wants to deal with Washington.
Crowley said the United States was open to any form of dialogue with the North.
"But right now, the responsibility rests on North Korea to show that such dialogue, either at a multilateral setting or a bilateral setting, will be constructive," he said.
Cross-border tensions have been high since the North shelled Yeonpyeong island on November 23. The North also raised security fears that month by disclosing a uranium enrichment plant to visiting US experts.
After a difficult year on the Korean peninsula, 2011 started on a more peaceful note.
North Korea began the year with calls for improved relations with Seoul, while South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak Monday also reached out, saying he was open to talks and offering closer economic ties.
Efforts to resume long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks with the North have also gained momentum as Beijing urged dialogue and Pyongyang signalled it was willing to return to the negotiating table.