The State Department said Thursday there is "increasing confidence"
among U.S. officials of progress in the stalled diplomatic process
aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice will try to advance the issue in a trip to Asia next
week. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
here decline to elaborate on an assertion by Secretary Rice that North
Korea will "soon" make the long-awaited declaration on its nuclear
But at the same time, they say recent diplomatic
contacts on the issue are giving rise to at least cautious optimism
that the six-party process - now more than six months behind schedule -
may soon be moving again.
North Korea agreed last year to
eventually scrap its nuclear program, including weapons, in return for
energy aid and diplomatic benefits from the other parties to the
talks-the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.
current phase of the process was to have been capped at the end of last
year by a North Korean declaration of all its nuclear holdings and
activities, including any involvement in proliferation.
Rice told Washington's conservative Heritage Foundation late Wednesday
that North Korea will soon hand over the declaration to China, the
chair of the talks, and that the United States would be ready to
reciprocate by removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of
terrorism and dropping related sanctions.
In a talk with
reporters, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey refused to say
what specifically was behind Rice's assertion but spoke of a generally
hopeful mood in recent Korea diplomacy.
"I think this is just
the result of a lot of extensive discussions and work, and I think an
increasing confidence that we're getting to the end of this particular
phase," he noted. "But I am hesitant to declare any kind of certainty
on this, and I think as she [Rice] said one has to remain fairly
skeptical in this process as we move forward. We will know that we have
a declaration when we actually have it."
U.S. diplomacy on the
issue is accelerating. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill,
the chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, consulted Thursday in
Tokyo with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts and is to go on
to similar meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing.
The six-party process is also expected to be a key issue for Secretary
Rice, who attends a meeting of G-8 foreign ministers next week in
Japan, and continues on to South Korea and China. Spokesman Casey said
in addition to political talks with Chinese officials in Beijing, Rice
will pay a condolence visit to Chengdu, the central Chinese city
ravaged by last month's earthquake. The Secretary begins the week-long
foreign trip next Monday in Germany.
a related issue, spokesman Casey rejected an assertion in a Washington
Post story Thursday that the Bush administration, focused on the
nuclear talks, has "largely forgotten" about the case of a Korean-born
U.S. permanent resident abducted by North Korea.
The Post said
U.S. resident Kim Dong-shik, a Christian missionary, was abducted by
North Korean agents in northeastern China in 2000, after apparently
angering the Pyongyang government by helping North Koreans flee their
Casey said U.S. officials remain aware of, and
continue to pursue the case of Kim, which he noted is prominently
mentioned in the State Department's annual global reports on both human
rights and religious freedom.
Casey also said the six-party
process is not intended to resolve every problem in U.S.-North Korean
relations. He said even if it leads, as envisaged, to normal relations,
there will still be hundreds if not thousands of outstanding issues
between the two countries.