The United States said Wednesday it is ready to match good-faith North Korean actions in the six-party negotiations aimed at ending that country's nuclear program. The New York Times earlier reported that U.S. and North Korean diplomats discussed specifics of a disarmament accord in talks in China last week. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Officials here are not confirming details of the New York Times account, but they do say Pyongyang has been given an outline of what it can expect in terms of aid and other incentives if it agrees to scrap its nuclear weapons program.
Senior U.S. and North Korean diplomats held two face-to-face meetings under Chinese auspices in Beijing last week in the latest effort to restart the six-party talks on the nuclear issue, which have been idle for more than a year.
The New York Times Tuesday quoted U.S. officials close to the talks as saying U.S. envoy Christopher Hill described a detailed package of disarmament incentives for North Korea including food aid from the United States, Japan and South Korea.
It said an agreement would hinge on North Korea agreeing to begin dismantling some equipment it has been using to expand its nuclear arsenal, including a plutonium reprocessing facility refining spent reactor fuel into weapons-grade material.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack insisted the meetings between Hill, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan were not negotiations. But he said they were aimed at providing the sides with a rational expectation of what an agreement might contain:
"The operating principle here again is that with a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula, all things are possible," said Sean McCormack. "Without a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula, nothing is possible. So that same operating principle of good faith actions in return for good-faith actions was really the underlying message for what Chris [Christopher Hill] was talking about."
The six-party talks reached an agreement in principle in September of last year under which Pyongyang undertook to give up its nuclear program in return for aid and security guarantees.
But North Korea began boycotting the talks in November, 2005, after the United States imposed penalties on a Chinese bank it said had been used as a hub for illicit North Korean activity including counterfeiting U.S. currency.
The Bush administration has said it will not drop the penalties until North Korea halts the illegal dealings, but is ready to deal with the issue in the context of the six-party process.
Pyongyang announced it was prepared to return to the talks at the end of October, only a few weeks after conducting a nuclear test that led to U.N. sanctions against it.
U.S. officials have expressed hope the talks might resume before the end of the year, but in recent days have said that no harm would be done if the process slipped to January.
The six-party talks, which include Russia, Japan and South Korea as well as the United States, North Korea and host China, began in 2003 after the breakdown of a bilateral U.S.-North Korean nuclear freeze accord reached in 1994.