Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed a possible U.S.-North Korea meeting with her counterparts from South Korean and Japan on Monday. The rare diplomatic encounter would be to prompt North Korea to return to Chinese-sponsored six-party negotiations on its nuclear program.
U.S. officials insist that no decision has been made on whether to accept a North Korean invitation for a Pyongyang visit by American envoy Stephen Bosworth.
But the prospect of such a visit was a key issue in U.S. consultations with Asian allies, including Secretary Clinton's New York meetings with South Korean Foreign, Minister Yu Myung-hwan and the new Japanese Foreign Minister, Katsuya Okada.
Briefing reporters on Clinton's meetings with her Asian counterparts prior to the start of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell said there is an understanding among regional partners that any U.S. contact with North Korea would be to support the six-party process.
"There is a recognition that should the United States in the near future decide to have some bilateral interactions with North Korea, they are a part of a process to get back to a six-party framework," said Kurt Campbell. "And in addition, [there is] strong agreement among all the parties that North Korea must accept the fundamental conditions which it signed up for in 2005 and 2007, which are essentially a commitment to a nuclear-free peninsula in Korea."
North Korea agreed in principle in 2005, and reaffirmed that two years later, that it would scrap its nuclear program - including weapons - exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits from the other parties to the talks - Japan, South Korea, Russia, the United States and host China.
But negotiations broke down a year ago when Pyongyang refused to accept a program for verifying its declared nuclear assets.
Campbell said China, traditionally North Korea's main diplomatic ally and aid supplier, has probably been the "clearest and firmest" country lately in pushing Pyongyang to live up to its obligations and return to the negotiating table.
The Assistant Secretary of State said the Clinton meeting with her Japanese counterpart, and President Barack Obama's scheduled meeting on Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, underline an effort by the United States to get off to a "good start" with the new left-leaning Japanese government.
Campbell said the Obama administration is prepared to listen to Japanese proposals for changing some aspects of the bilateral relationship.
But he suggested it would resist efforts to amend an agreement, concluded this year, under which the United States would retain a large military presence on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, while relocating some troops to Guam.
"We have, and others in the U.S. government, have underscored that there are certain areas - on Okinawa and elsewhere - that we think a degree of continuity is critical and the best way forward," he said. "However, the truth is that the United States, as an alliance partner and a strong friend of Japan, at this early stage we cannot be in a position to dictate. We must make clear that we're committed to a process of dialogue and discussion."
Campbell said Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg will visit Japan next week and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will follow him to Tokyo a week later to continue a first phase of U.S. dialogue with the new government, which took office last week.