A senior U.S. diplomat has flown to Beijing for consultations after holding two meetings in New York last week with North Korean officials posted to the United Nations. The Bush administration wants an early resumption of Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program.
The Beijing trip by the U.S. envoy on North Korea Joseph DeTrani, who will also go to South Korea and Japan, is part of a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at restarting the nuclear talks which have been idle since a session in the Chinese capital last June.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters Mr. DeTrani held a set of two meetings last week with officials of the North Korean mission to the United Nations to convey the U.S. interest in new talks:
"The purpose was not to negotiate with the North Koreans," said Mr. Ereli. "The purpose was to state to the North Koreans that the United States is ready to resume the six-party talks at an early date and without preconditions, and that we want to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically."
Mr. Ereli said Ambassador DeTrani reiterated the U.S. position that the six-way forum is the proper venue for resolving the nuclear issue, and called on Pyongyang to follow through on its stated commitment to return to the talks.
North Korea and the other parties including Japan, South Korea and Russia along with the United States and China agreed in principle in June to hold another round by September.
However, North Korea refused to return to the talks, amid broad speculation that it would await the results of the November 2 U.S. presidential election before deciding when, or whether, to take part again.
A diplomat who spoke to reporters here discouraged North Korea from holding out for a changed American bargaining stance, noting that the people who formulated the current U.S. policy are still in office, and that President Bush, who put the position forward, has been re-elected.
The United States has offered to be part of multilateral guarantees for North Korea's security if it agreed to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear weapons program.
While it has ruled out diplomatic concessions or aid to North Korea before disarmament, the Bush administration has said other parties to the talks would be free to extend aid to the economically-troubled communist state while the process unfolds.
Mr. DeTrani met the North Korean U.N. delegates on Tuesday and Friday of last week. While the United States has used the U.N. channel to communicate with Pyongyang before, the twin meetings were unusual.
A North Korean spokesman said after the New York contacts that there was no sign the United States had changed what was termed its "hostile policy" toward Pyongyang.
Spokesman Ereli said Mr. DiTrani would confer with Chinese officials in Beijing Wednesday and stop in Seoul and Tokyo before returning home Saturday.
Mr. Ereli also said Secretary of State Colin Powell had spoken by telephone Monday with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, but provided no details.
The current nuclear dispute began in October 2002, when the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment project despite a 1994 deal with the Clinton administration to freeze its nuclear program.
North Korea later expelled U.N. inspectors and said it reprocessed spent fuel from what had been a shuttered reactor complex, seemingly providing enough plutonium to build several nuclear weapons.