The United States says it made no concessions to bring North Korea back to six-party negotiations over its nuclear program. Pyongyang agreed to return to the negotiations Tuesday at a round of secret talks with senior U.S. and Chinese officials in Beijing.
Officials here are welcoming the agreement to restart the six-party talks, but they're insisting the United States made no concessions to North Korea and will press ahead on U.N. sanctions mandated after Pyongyang's October 9 nuclear test.
The Chinese-sponsored negotiations have not convened for nearly a year despite an agreement in principle by the six parties in September of last year, under which Pyongyang was to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
China had been making intensive backstage efforts to get the talks going again, and Beijing, which is North Korea's biggest trading partner and aid provider, is reported to have recently stepped-up economic pressure on the reclusive communist state.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, President Bush publicly thanked China for arranging the three-way meeting that produced Tuesday's agreement, while making clear that efforts to enforce the sanctions stemming from the nuclear test will go forward:
He said, "We'll be sending teams to the region to work with our partners to make sure that the current United Nations Security Council resolution is enforced, but also to make sure that the [six-party] talks are effective - that we achieve the results we want, which is a North Korea that abandons their nuclear weapons programs and her nuclear weapons, in a verifiable fashion in return for a better way forward for her people."
The Pyongyang government pulled out of the six-party talks after a brief round last November. It had said it would not return unless the United States dropped financial penalties imposed last year because of alleged North Korean counterfeiting and other illicit activity being conducted through the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia.
But the U.S. envoy to Tuesday's Beijing meeting, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill, said his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan told him Pyongyang was now ready to deal with the financial issue within the six-party forum.
At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said that discussion could be conducted through a working group or other mechanism in the context of the broader negotiations:
"In terms of Banco Delta Asia and other financial issues, we're willing to address those issues in the context of the six-party talks," he said. "You can have a variety of different mechanisms, you can have a working group, in order to discuss these issues. I think the North Koreans understand that the easy way around these questions is not to engage in illicit behavior."
No date has been given for the resumption of the six-party talks but U.S. officials say they expect it will be before the end of the year and perhaps sometime in November.
The six-party talks, which include South Korea, Japan and Russia along with North Korea, the United States and host China, began in 2003.
The United States had insisted on the multi-lateral framework after a 1994 nuclear freeze arrangement negotiated by the Clinton administration collapsed amid a revelation in 2002 that Pyongyang was secretly enriching uranium.