The State Department says North Korea has told U.S. officials Pyongyang will return to Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on its nuclear program but has given no timeframe. U.S. and North Korean diplomats met in New York Monday.
The North Korean commitment to return to the nuclear talks came little more than two weeks before the first anniversary of the last round of discussions, held in Beijing late last June.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the North Korean team at the New York meeting told its U.S. counterparts of Pyongyang's intention to rejoin the Chinese-sponsored negotiations but provided no date.
The Bush administration has resisted North Korean calls for direct negotiations with the United States on the nuclear issue, and has said the contacts with its diplomats in New York are only for exchanging messages.
Spokesman McCormack under questioning described Monday's meeting as useful, in that Pyongyang has reaffirmed its intention to continue with the six-party format:
"The six-party forum is the forum in which we can come to a solution to these issues, and I think the North Koreans agree with that, that it is the proper forum to address these issues," he said. "We can't address those issues if we don't have all six parties at the table. We have five parties now who have committed to returning to the talks. The ball is in the North Korean's court to provide the time when they will return to the table and to actually return to the table to engage in a constructive manner."
The six-party talks began in 2003 and involve South Korea, Russia and Japan as well as the North Korea the United States and China.
At the session last June, which was the third round of the discussions, the United States presented a detailed proposal to which North Korea has yet to formally respond.
The United States has said it would join in multi-lateral guarantees for North Korea's security as part of an accord for the complete and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear program.
Though the Bush administration has ruled out aid and diplomatic benefits for North Korea until disarmament is complete, it has said that other parties to the talks could provide fuel oil and other aid to the economically-hard pressed communist state as the process unfolds.
North Korea had said earlier this year it would not return to the talks until the Bush administration ended what said was a hostile policy towards it.
Mr. McCormack said the multi-lateral forum is a way for the North Koreans to, as he put it, "get the respect they want, and the assistance they say they need."
The meetings in the so-called New York channel have involved working-level diplomatic teams led by special envoy for North Korea Joseph DeTrani on the U.S. side and by North Korea's U.N. ambassador, Pak Gil-Yon.
At a meeting May 13, Mr. DeTrani pressed for Pyongyang's return to the six-party talks while repeating recent statements by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States acknowledges North Korea's sovereignty.
The New York meeting Monday came at the request of North Korea, conveyed last week to the U.S. mission at the United Nations.