NEW YORK (AP) – A prominent U.S. senator met Friday with North Korea’s nuclear envoy who promised to live up to commitments made in an agreement last week with the United States.
Democrat Sen. John Kerry said that the North Korean also made a “profound statement” about wanting a different relationship and not wanting to fight with the United States.
Kerry met the envoy, Ri Yong Ho, at an informal security conference in New York, a week after Pyongyang agreed to freeze uranium enrichment and allow in U.N. inspectors. The North also agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests.
“They said that they will live by the agreement that they made last week, that we can count on that,” Kerry, who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, told reporters.
In return, the U.S. will provide its first food aid to the impoverished communist nation in three years.
That has contributed to an easing in tensions between the long-term adversaries, but is only a first step toward restarting six-nation disarmament negotiations that the North withdrew from in 2009.
“We have been here before. We have come to these points that have been constructive and something breaks down. We need to try and change that dynamic,” Kerry said.
Despite warming U.S.-North Korean ties, tensions are still running high on the divided Korean Peninsula, and Pyongyang appears cool to Seoul’s offers of dialogue.
Following U.S.-South Korean military exercises this week, the North called for a “sacred war” against the South and held military drills of its own near a disputed sea border. In 2010, two military attacks on South Korea killed 50 of its people.
The New York conference, held informally and behind closed doors, was an opportunity to break the ice. The nuclear envoys of both North and South Korea were among representatives from eight countries taking part, most of them academics and former officials.
While organizers said the discussions were positive and helped build trust, the envoys of the rival Koreas did not hold separate talks.
The United States says for its relations with North Korea to fundamentally improve, there must first be an improvement in inter-Korean relations. South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik on Friday signaled Seoul’s willingness to talk to the North.
“I urge North Korea again to come forward for dialogue as soon as its internal situation stabilizes,” Yu said at a forum in Seoul, referring to the power transition in North Korea from longtime ruler Kim Jong Il, who died in December, to his untested son Kim Jong Un.
The United States reassured South Korea that it won’t let the recent progress with Pyongyang affect its close relations with Seoul.
“I want to be very clear: Any effort by anyone to drive a wedge between the United States and the Republic of Korea will fail,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said after meeting South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan in Washington.
Associated Press writer Sam Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)