The United States Tuesday imposed sanctions against two North Korean entities said to be involved in that country's missile and nuclear programs. The action came as the U.S. envoy for North Korean policy completed a round of talks in Asia on ways to get Pyongyang to return to nuclear negotiations.
The Obama administration is continuing to tighten economic curbs on North Korea while at the same time leaving the door open to direct dialogue with Pyongyang, if that would lead to a resumption of Chinese-sponsored negotiations on its nuclear program.
A State Department announcement said a North Korean company, the Korea Tangun Trading Corporation, and the communist country's General Bureau of Atomic Energy were being added to a list of North Korean entities facing U.S. economic sanctions.
The two were sanctioned by the United Nations in July. Under Tuesday's action, any assets they might have in the United States would be frozen and U.S. citizens barred from dealing with them.
The U.S. administration is been pursuing a two-track strategy of economic pressure and diplomacy to try to revive the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program, which broke down last year.
After drawing international condemnation earlier this year for a nuclear test and long-range missile launch, North Korea has recently made conciliatory gestures while saying it wanted to discuss the nuclear issue with the United States rather than in the six-party framework.
In Tokyo Tuesday after completing consultations in China, South Korea and Japan, U.S. North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth said the United States is ready for bilateral talks with Pyongyang, for which it made an overture last month, but in support of the broader negotiations.
"We do not consider in any way that bilateral engagement is a substitute for multi-lateral engagement and this is not a substitute for us, for the re-ignition of the six-party talks. We have not reached a decision on how to respond to this invitation, and we will be considering that in Washington over the next few weeks," he said.
U.S. officials have not ruled out separate talks with Pyongyang, for instance, as a prelude to a resumption of the six-party process.
A senior State Department official told reporters here the U.S. preferred option is meeting the North Koreans in the context of the six-nation talks, and that anything the administration decides to do will be done in strict consultation and with the agreement of the other parties - South Korea, Japan, Russia and host China.
Bosworth is heading back to Washington from Tokyo, while the U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, Sung Kim, was to return to Seoul to meet there with his Russian counterpart.
North Korea agreed in principle in 2005 to scrap its nuclear program including weapons in return for aid and diplomatic benefits, but refused last year to accept a verification plan for its declared nuclear assets.
Bosworth said in Tokyo the other five parties are in solid agreement that denuclearization remains the core objective of engagement with North Korea, that this should be achieved through the Chinese-sponsored talks, and that they intend to fully implement the U.N. sanctions resolution approved after Pyonyang's May 25 nuclear test.