The Bush administration said Tuesday it encouraged the New York Philharmonic orchestra to accept an invitation to visit North Korea early next year. But the State Department says a real breakthrough in relations with Pyongyang depends on its willingness to end its nuclear program. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Officials here say the State Department worked behind the scenes to support arrangements for what will be an unprecedented North Korea visit by the New York Philharmonic in February.
The orchestra confirmed Monday that it has accepted an invitation from the Pyongyang government to go to North Korea, in what will be the first significant cultural visit by Americans to the reclusive Communist state.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters here the Bush administration had "absolutely" encouraged the visit, which he said could be one element in a potentially different kind of relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world.
But McCormack declined to call the move a step toward warmer relations, saying that depends on whether or not North Korea lives up to the terms of the six-party nuclear accord reached in February.
"That is going to rest upon whether or not North Korea makes some strategic decisions in the context of the six-party talks," he said. "Now, we have had some pretty good early returns in terms of the disablement process, but there's still many steps along the way here: a good declaration, a full declaration, actual dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program. And then you can really imagine a different kind of relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world."
North Korea shut down its nuclear reactor complex at Yongbyon and is said to be close to permanently disabling the reactor there from which it derived plutonium for the nuclear weapon it tested last year.
However, diplomats have expressed concern Pyongyang may not meet a December 31 deadline for a full declaration of its nuclear program and related holdings, including the uranium enrichment project U.S. officials believe North Korea conducted in parallel with the plutonium effort.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, who viewed a draft of the declaration recently in Pyongyang, said there were "fewer elements in it" than he would like to see.
In an unusual move earlier this month, President Bush sent a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il repeating the prospect of normalized relations with Pyongyang, but saying that progress towards that depends on a complete and accurate declaration.
U.S. officials have said that, in addition to accounting for the uranium enrichment project, North Korea must disclose the number and status of the nuclear warheads it has built, what nuclear technology it obtained from abroad, and what nuclear material or know-how it may have passed to other countries.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday a full declaration would be the "launching pad" for the next phase in the process, including actual dismantling of the nuclear program and diplomatic and regional security arrangements.
Rice said she does not know if relations with North Korea will be fully normalized when the Bush administration leaves office in 13 months, but said adherence to the six-party accords will put it on a path to ending its isolation from the United States and the rest of the world.