The meetings in Geneva Monday and Tuesday are to include outgoing U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth and incoming envoy Glyn Davies, currently U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the State Department said Wednesday in announcing Davies' appointment.
Bosworth will introduce Davies to the North Korean officials, including foreign affairs First Vice Minister Kim Kye-gwan -- who greeted former U.S. President Bill Clinton in August 2009 when Clinton went to North Korea to secure the release of two U.S. TV journalists imprisoned for allegedly crossing into North Korea from China without a visa.
He greeted former President Jimmy Carter a year later when Carter went to North Korea to secure the release of a Boston teacher also imprisoned for allegedly entering the country illegally.
Kim Jong Il's comments about wanting to resume the so-called six-party talks -- seeking to find a peaceful resolution to security concerns stemming from North Korea's nuclear weapons program -- came in an interview with Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency.
The talks, involving both Koreas, the United States, Russia, China and Japan, stalled in 2008, and Pyongyang pulled out April 14, 2009, announcing it would resume its nuclear-enrichment program to boost its nuclear deterrent.
In March 2010, it allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 South Korean servicemen. Pyongyang denied the allegation.
In November 2010 the north shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people, after a Southern military exercise in the area. North Korea said it responded to South Korean shells being fired into North Korean territorial waters.
"Our principle position remains unchanged that the six-way talks should be quickly resumed without preconditions," Kim said in the written interview, cited by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim repeated that denuclearizing the "whole" Korean Peninsula was a dying wish of his father, North Korean founding Prime Minister and later President Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994.
Kim said North Korea wanted to improve ties with the United States and Japan, but only if the two countries abandoned what he characterized as their hostile approach toward his country.
"We built our nuclear deterrent to protect our sovereignty in the face of the United States' blatant nuclear threats and its escalating hostile policy," Kim was quoted as saying.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Obama administration wanted to see if North Korea was "indeed prepared to take steps to fulfill its commitments" to disarm.
"We want to see it take steps toward denuclearization," he said.
President Barack Obama has frozen virtually all diplomatic contacts with North Korea and resisted making deals simply to defuse tensions, a policy strategy U.S. officials call "strategic patience."
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