Secretary of State Colin Powell held talks with the foreign minister of North Korea Wednesday in a session that could lead to resumption of a formal dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
The two met for an informal chat on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Brunei.
It was the highest-level contact between the United States and Communist North Korea since President George W. Bush took office in 2001 and applied the brakes to tentative U.S. moves towards detente with North Korea when he labeled the country part of the "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address.
North Korea Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun emerged from the brief session saying, "We have agreed to resume the dialogue between North Korea and the United States."
"Everything went satisfactorily," said Paek, who met with his U.S. counterpart in a delegates lounge.
Paek said they agreed that the dialogue could help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Powell, asked about the meeting after a luncheon with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, said, "It was a good meeting, a short meeting over coffee, and I told him that we should stay in touch and see how to pursue our dialogue."
Powell's chief spokesman, Richard Boucher, said in a statement that Powell "reaffirmed the president's policy and said that in any future discussions, we would want to emphasize a variety of matters, including proliferation, mutual commitments made under the Agreed Framework, and conventional forces. As for follow on meetings or travel, we would consider the statements the North Koreans have made."
Boucher had said earlier that Powell told Paek that in any future discussions, the United States would want to "emphasize a variety of matters, including proliferation and mutual commitments made" under a 1994 agreement designed to curb North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
A senior U.S. official said the meeting took place after Powell sent word to the North Koreans that he was in the lounge and available for a conversation.
Paek entered the lounge and Powell greeted him. They then sat down at a table, the official said. The meeting took place at 9:25 a.m. local time.
Beforehand, Paek had breakfast with members of the Chinese delegation here. Asked by reporters about a meeting with Powell, he said, "If they propose first, I will meet with them."
In a commentary coinciding with the meeting, North Korea's official news agency called the United States "the kingpin of evil" and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the 37,000 U.S. troops from South Korea.
It said the United States was eager to undertake "pre-emptive strikes" against North Korea. It made no reference to the Powell-Paek meeting.
Powell is on a six-nation tour of Southeast Asia. Brunei, the fourth stop, is hosting meetings of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations and larger gatherings involving delegates from more than 20 Pacific rim countries. Brunei is a Delaware-sized sultanate on the northwest coast of Borneo.
The United States and North Korea are looking to revive high-level talks for the first time since late in the Clinton administration when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveled to Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Bush proposed in June 2001 that discussions resume but the North showed no interest until this past spring, its enthusiasm possibly diminished by Bush's "axis of evil" statement.
The two sides seemed headed for renewed talks three weeks ago in Pyongyang but a shooting incident at sea involving vessels of North and South Korea created what the State Department called an "unfavorable atmosphere" for the talks and they were postponed.
Just last Friday, Pyongyang showed an interest in establishing contact, perhaps with the Brunei conference in mind.
North Korea has one of the world's most stricken economies but the country has long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States. To Washington's alarm, some missile sales have gone to Iran and Syria.
Beyond that, the North has some 700,000 troops stationed near the South Korean border. Some are equipped with chemical and biological weapons.
The Bush administration hopes to start a process that eventually will make North Korea a less menacing presence in Northeast Asia. In return, Washington is prepared to provide still unspecified economic benefits to the North.