The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it will send its envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, to Asia and Russia this week to discuss ways to revive the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program. Bosworth will visit China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, but he does not plan to visit North Korea.
Prospects for a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula have diminished in recent weeks with a series of defiant moves by North Korea's communist government. Officials here say Bosworth is being sent to the region to "take the pulse" of U.S. negotiating partners on how the six-party process might be restored.
North Korea announced last month that it was quitting the six-party talks, after the U.N. Security Council condemned its April 5 long-range missile test, which Pyongyang called a satellite launch. It has since threatened to resume plutonium production at its partly-disabled Yongbyon reactor complex and conduct another nuclear test.
A senior State Department official says there have been ups and downs in the disarmament process before and that Bosworth will consult other participants in the talks on, in his words, "how serious a down this is."
State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood says Bosworth, accompanied by the chief U.S. delegate to the nuclear talks, Sung Kim, will leave on Wednesday for a 10-day trip to Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and Moscow on a visit aimed at reviving the negotiations.
"We're looking first and foremost to try to convince the North to come back to the negotiating table. The six-party talks are a viable framework. The North has some obligations under that six-party framework. We all in the international community have an interest in seeing a de-nuclearized Korean Peninsula. So the purpose of this trip is to work with our allies to find a way forward in convincing the North to come back to the negotiating table," he said.
A senior U.S. official did not rule out a meeting between Bosworth's delegation and North Koreans in Beijing or another capital, but said there were no plans for such an encounter or a visit to Pyongyang.
Bosworth, a former diplomat and academic, has made one visit to the region thus far in his new capacity, in early March. Although he declared himself ready to visit North Korea during that trip, no invitation was extended.
Some analysts have suggested that North Korea might be spurning the six-party talks in a bid to shift the nuclear negotiations to a bilateral channel with the United States. The senior official who spoke here said Pyongyang needs to come back to the six-party process because there is no other framework for dealing with the issue.
North Korea agreed in principle in 2005 to scrap its nuclear program, including weapons, in return for energy aid and diplomatic benefits from the other parties to the talks. Negotiations broke down late last year over Pyongyang's refusal to accept a verification plan for the declaration of its nuclear holdings it made in June.