updated 10/25/2011 3:21:09 PM ET 2011-10-25T19:21:09

An intensive round of talks between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear program ended Tuesday without a deal to resume formal negotiations, but top diplomats from both sides reported progress on the steps that will be needed to finally get there.

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The U.S. special envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, told reporters just after the two-day talks wrapped up that there had been progress without agreeing to a formal resumption of negotiations, either bilaterally on in the so-called six-party format that also includes China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Nevertheless, he called it a useful meeting whose tone was "positive and generally constructive."

"There's a long history to this relationship and we have many differences, not all of which can be overcome quickly. I am confident that with continued effort on both sides, we can reach a reasonable basis of departure for formal negotiations for a return to the six-party process," Bosworth said outside the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

"We narrowed differences in terms of what has to be done before we can both agree to a resumption of the formal negotiations," he said.

In Washington, State Department officials said it could be weeks or months before North Korea responds to issues the U.S. raised during the Geneva talks.

U.S. diplomats want North Korea to adhere to a 2005 agreement it reneged on requiring verifiable denuclearization in exchange for better relations with its Asian neighbors. China, North Korea's closest ally, has urged Pyongyang to improve its strained ties with the United States and South Korea.

The North Korean delegation was headed by First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, who told reporters outside his country's U.N. mission that the two parties hope to meet again before the end of this year.

"Basically, according to our agreement from the first round of the high-level talks, we have focused our discussion on the confidence building measures to improve the North and the U.S. relationship," Kim said.

"During the process, there were series of big improvements, and there were also some parts we had differences in opinion," he said. "We decided to review those and solve them when we meet again."

Bosworth said the two sides would remain in touch through the "New York channel" — North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York — since the two nations have no formal relations.

"We came to the conclusion that we will need more time and more discussion to reach agreement," said Bosworth, accompanied by Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is taking over the negotiating in future talks. "So we will go back to capitals and consult further."

Beijing, too, wants to revive the stalled six-nation disarmament negotiations. North Korea walked out on the talks in 2009 — and exploded a second nuclear-test device — but now wants to re-engage. Last year, Pyongyang also was blamed for two military attacks on South Korea that heightened tensions on the peninsula.

Bosworth talked about a narrowing of differences during the two-day meeting, but provided no specifics.

The first day was held at the U.S. mission to the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva. On the second day Tuesday, the two sides met for a "working lunch" of a little more than an hour at the North Korean mission, on the opposite side of Lake Geneva, then talked for one hour more before breaking up.

After the first day of talks Monday, Bosworth also said the two sides were narrowing their differences. The start of Tuesday's closely watched talks was delayed without explanation.

Bosworth said the discussions also "touched on all issues" — such as urgently needed food aid for the North, families long separated on the Korean peninsula and the remains of troops missing in action.

The U.N.'s top relief official, Valerie Amos, said Monday after visiting North Korea that it was "not appropriate" for the nuclear talks in Switzerland to extend to humanitarian assistance to the chronically hungry Asian country because that aid "must be kept separate from a political agenda."

The U.N. is urging countries to provide $218 million in emergency aid to North Korea.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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