Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said Thursday North Korea has a positive path ahead if it adheres to disarmament agreements under the six-party negotiations, and avoids provocative actions. Steinberg spoke on the eve of an Asian policy address by Secretary of State Clinton in advance of her trip to the region.
The first few weeks of the Obama administration have seen belligerent rhetoric from Pyongyang toward its neighbor, South Korea, and reports of preparations for a possible long-range missile test.
But as they prepare for Secretary Clinton's first overseas trip - a week-long foray to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China - administration officials are sounding hopeful themes, with Deputy Secretary Steinberg saying there is a positive path forward if North Korea adheres to its nuclear commitments.
In a Washington speech Thursday to leaders of non-governmental groups, Steinberg said the new administration is strongly supportive of the Chinese-sponsored six-party negotiations, under which Pyongyang has agreed in principle to scrap its nuclear program including weapons in return for aid and diplomatic benefits.
The talks stalled late last year over North Korean resistance to a verification regime for the declaration of its nuclear program Pyongyang made last June. Steinberg said a positive scenario depends on North Korea keeping commitments on verification, disablement of its nuclear facilities, and moving toward complete de-nuclearization.
"We see an opportunity here, and the president and the secretary [of state] have made clear that this is something that we very much intend to pursue," said James Steinberg. "We very much hope that North Korea will see this as an opportunity to continue to engage with the six parties and that it will refrain from taking steps now that will make it harder for us to move forward on that path. And I think this a good opportunity for all sides to move forward."
Steinberg said that on her trip next week Secretary Clinton will seek to coordinate policy on the nuclear issue with her South Korean, Japanese and Chinese colleagues, and to address South Korean concerns about harsh language Pyongyang has recently used with regard to the Seoul government.
He said all participants in the process want to see agreements made by North Korea kept but if they are not, all the countries in the region will have to respond accordingly.
Clinton will be accompanied to Asia by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill, who has doubled as chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks.
The State Department is sending other diplomats to Moscow late next week for the year's first meeting under the six-party framework, a working group on a new Northeast Asian peace and security framework that would be set up in the last stage of the disarmament process.
Clinton will discuss North Korea and the broader U.S.-Asian agenda in an address Friday to the private Asia Society in New York. She leaves Washington on the Asia trip on Sunday.