US: Agenda for North Korea Talks 'Quite Narrow'

Talk to be limited to determining whether Pyongyang is willing to return to Chinese-sponsored talks on its nuclear program

David Dyar

A senior State Department official said Monday that the U.S. agenda for talks with North Korea will be limited to determining whether Pyongyang is willing to return to Chinese-sponsored talks on its nuclear program and to reaffirm its 2005 agreement in principle to disarm.  U.S. envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth will arrive in Pyongyang on Tuesday for the highest-level bilateral meeting since President Barack Obama took office in January.

There have been press reports that North Korea wants to use the Bosworth visit to pursue its long-standing quest for a peace treaty with Washington that would end the technical state of war that has existed since the Korean conflict of the 1950s.

But a senior State Department official who spoke to reporters on the eve of the U.S. envoy's arrival in Pyongyang says Bosworth has a "quite narrow" agenda in North Korea, to determine whether the communist state will return to disarmament talks and to reaffirm the 2005 framework agreement under which Pyongyang is to scrap its nuclear program -- including weapons, in return for aid and other benefits from world powers.

Bosworth, a retired senior U.S. diplomat is leading an interagency team of U.S. officials to Pyongyang for the highest level bilateral dialogue since the Chinese-sponsored six-party nuclear talks stalled last year.

North Korea said it was quitting the talks after international criticism of a long-range missile test in April that Pyongyang said was a satellite launch.  It conducted its second nuclear test the following month amid belligerent rhetoric, but lately has struck a more conciliatory tone.

The senior official said Bosworth will seek clarity on North Korea's intentions and said that if it wants to return to the negotiations, he is sure China would be ready to reconvene them.

He said that if Pyongyang rejects the resumption of six-party discussions, the other participants would focus on enforcing sanctions under U.N. Security Council resolution 1874, which was approved after North Korea's May 25th nuclear test and consider possible additional penalties.

Earlier, at a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said that if North Korea wants to discuss a peace treaty with Washington or any other issue, it can do so in working groups in the context of renewed six-party talks. "It's a very simple agenda that Stephen Bosworth is going to Pyongyang with.  And that's that we are having these talks to insure a resumption of the six-party talks and to reaffirm the September 2005 joint statement and its goal of a complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," he said.

Bosworth, who goes to Pyongyang from Seoul on Tuesday, met South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan in Seoul on Monday.

After the meetings in North Korea, Bosworth is due to have a quick round of consultations with the other members of the six-party talks in Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow before returning to Washington on December 15th.

Spokesman Kelly said Bosworth does not anticipate a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, but has been assured that his team will see appropriate high-level officials in Pyongyang.

The Bosworth team includes the U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, Sung Kim, but not the newly-named U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights, Robert King.

King is taking part in meetings on North Korea this week at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.  On Monday, he urged Pyongyang to allow outside scrutiny of human rights conditions in the reclusive communist state.

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