The Obama administration is making clear in advance of the Bosworth mission that it is not interested in discussing side issues, and that the U.S. envoy will be seeking a commitment from Pyongyang to return to the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks which have been stalled for more than a year.
President Obama announced before ending his Asia trip in Seoul early Thursday that Bosworth will pay a long-anticipated visit to Pyongyang on December 8 in a bid to break the deadlock in the aid-for-disarmament negotiations.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said Bosworth will pursue a reaffirmation of North Korea's September 2005 agreement in principle to scrap its nuclear program in return for aid and diplomatic benefits. He said other matters of concern to Pyongyang can be taken up in working groups, once North Korea returns to the negotiations.
"We are going to go into this with our eyes wide open," said Ian Kelly. "We are not interested in being distracted by issues beyond the most important issues facing the region in terms of security, and that's the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, so that will be the focus of Ambassador Bosworth's trip to Pyongyang."
Bosworth, a retired senior U.S. diplomat and academic, has been a frequent visitor to North Korea over the years, but his mission to Pyongyang next month will be his first in the envoy role he assumed in February.
Pyongyang shut down its main nuclear complex and was in the process of permanently disabling it under an agreement reached two years ago, but the process broke down last year when North Korea refused to accept a plan to verify its declared nuclear assets.
North Korea quit the six-party talks altogether in protest of international criticism of a long-range missile test conducted in April and it staged its second nuclear test explosion in May.
At a news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak in Seoul, President Obama said North Korea's negotiating partners are weary of the up-and-down pattern of past talks and want Pyongyang to start negotiating seriously.
"President Lee and I both agree on the need to break the pattern that has existed in the past, in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion, it then is willing to return to talks, it talks for a while, and then leaves the talks seeking further concessions and there's never actually any progress on the core issues," said President Obama.
Embracing the so-called grand bargain offered Pyongyang by South Korean President Lee, Mr. Obama said the United States is ready to remove sanctions and assist in North Korea's integration into the world community if it takes serious steps' on the nuclear issue.
The State Department says Ambassador Bosworth is expected to have two days of meetings with senior officials in Pyongyang starting December 8, then visit South Korea, Japan, China and Russia - the other parties to the negotiations - to brief them on results of his mission.