The Obama administration's special representative for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth , said a missile test by Pyongyang in defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution requires some consequences.
Bosworth said he still hopes North Korea will reconsider and not conduct the missile launch. But he said if the widely-expected test does proceed, he also hopes that it will not produce any long-term interruption in the Chinese-sponsored negotiations aimed at a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Bosworth, a retired diplomat and academic named to the envoy post in February, had a measured response to what North Korea says will be the launch of an experimental satellite between Saturday and next Wednesday.
The envoy said the launch of a long-range missile, under whatever guise, would be a provocation, and a violation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1718 approved after North Korea's 2006 nuclear test and would require some consequences.
But in comments at Washington's Foreign Press Center, he also said that after, in his words, "the dust settles" following the missile episode, the six-party negotiations should resume.
"We would hope, and believe strongly, that everyone has a long-term interest - regardless of this short-term problem, in getting back to the negotiations in the six-party process as expeditiously as possible. I'm not able to predict when that might occur. But we will be talking vigorously with our partners in the process to try to bring that about," he said.
North Korea has threatened to quit the disarmament talks if it is hit with new U.N. sanctions after a missile test. Bosworth said it is hard to predict North Korean behavior, saying they might, or might not go into a "mode of escalation" in response to U.N. penalties.
Bosworth made his first trip to the region in the envoy post last month but was not invited to visit North Korea. He none-the-less said the Obama administration - in keeping with its interest in dialogue with long-time U.S. adversaries - wants bilateral contacts with North Korea and said such contacts would not harm the six-party process.
"The six-party talks, we believe, must be at the center and forefront of our efforts to deal with the issues of North Korea and their nuclear program. So that will not change," he stressed. "We will continue to have bilateral contacts with the North Koreans. We are prepared to open that channel at any point. Now, I don't think that bilateral contacts of the sort that have occurred in the past - and that I believe will occur in the future - will weaken the six-party process. I think indeed, it is possible they will strengthen the six-party process," he said.
Bosworth said there are ways to overcome the main stumbling block in the six-party talks, over verifying the declaration of its nuclear holdings North Korea made last year, and that he is not frustrated by the impasse.
He also said the Obama administration - on a separate track - is fully engaged, through Sweden which handles U.S. diplomatic affairs in Pyongyang, to gain the release of two U.S. journalists detained by Pyongyang authorities last month.
He said there is "no higher priority" in the United States' foreign policy than the protection of its citizens abroad.