Secretary of State Colin Powell conferred by telephone with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing Friday as U.S. officials prepared for the six-party talks to be hosted by China next week on North Korea's nuclear program. U.S. officials are cautioning against expectations of a breakthrough in the three days of meetings opening next Wednesday.
A senior official who spoke to reporters here called the Beijing talks only the beginning of what will likely be a lengthy dialogue.
But he said if North Korea is prepared to address international concerns about its nuclear program, it could, "open the door to a very new kind of relationship" with the United States and other countries as well.
The official said the U.S. team, led by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, would lay out a detailed proposal for ending the North Korean nuclear program that would address that country's security concerns though without offering the bilateral non-aggression treaty being sought by North Korea.
The Bush administration has long said that North Korea should derive no benefit from breaking various nuclear agreement since last year and the senior official said the United States is not going to Beijing with a "package of rewards" in anticipation of progress on disarmament.
At the same time, however, he noted that humanitarian aid to North Korea has continued despite the nuclear crisis and suggested that further aid offers from other parties to the talks would not be a kind of inducement that would trouble U.S. officials.
Mr. Powell's Friday conversation with his Chinese counterpart was part of an intensive dialogue between the two governments on North Korea, and reflected what the senior official described as a "new era of U.S. Chinese cooperation on major international issues."
China hosted an initial inconclusive three-way meeting with U.S. and North Korea in April and the official said Beijing "worked hard" to bring North Korea to the six-way talks, which will also include Japan, South Korea and Russia.
While Japan's Kyodo news agency reported Friday that China was trying to arrange for North Korea to have separate bilateral meetings with the United States and Japan on the sidelines of next week's talks, the senior official said there would be no U.S. bilateral with Pyongyang.
But he said the six-way format will provide for "plenty of opportunities" for U.S. and North Korean delegates to hear each other's views.