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article imageNorth Korea says to hold nuclear talks with US on Saturday

By Kang Jin-kyu (AFP)     Oct 1, 2019 in World

North Korea and the United States will hold working-level nuclear talks on Saturday, Pyongyang said, signalling the resumption of dialogue that has been effectively stalled since the collapse of a summit in February.

The two sides agreed to have "preliminary contact" on October 4 and hold negotiations the following day, the North's vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

"It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-US relations," she added without disclosing a venue.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus later confirmed the talks, which she said would happen "within the next week".

Negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been gridlocked since a second summit between North Korea's Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in February ended without a deal.

The two agreed to restart dialogue during an impromptu meeting at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas in June, but the North's anger at a US refusal to cancel joint military deals with South Korea put the process on hold.

Relations thawed last month after Trump fired his hawkish national security advisor John Bolton, who Pyongyang had repeatedly denounced as a warmonger.

North Korea's chief negotiator also responded positively to Trump's suggestion that the two sides try a "new method" of approaching their discussions.

Trump had criticised Bolton's suggestion of the "Libyan model" for North Korea, a reference to a denuclearisation deal with the African nation's former dictator Moamer Kadhafi -- who was killed after being deposed in 2011.

Pyongyang had bristled at that comment, which Trump said "set us back very badly".

- Consensus reached? -

Despite the gridlock, Pyongyang has continued to praise Trump, calling him "bold" and "wise".

Analysts say Bolton's dismissal from the White House could have helped Pyongyang's decision to return to the table.

South Korea's presidential Blue House welcomed Tuesday's announcement.

"We hope to see the realisation of practical steps towards permanent peace regime and complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula through the upcoming talks," said spokeswoman Ko Min-jung.

The announcement on the new talks could be an "indication" that the two sides have narrowed their differences behind the scenes, said Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

"The North has demanded security guarantees in return for denuclearisation measures and called on the US to come up with 'new calculation', he said.

"Consensus between the two might have been reached regarding the matter in the lead-up to the Tuesday announcement," he added.

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