Japan and South Korea Tuesday welcomed Bush administration plans to engage North Korea in a political dialogue. The endorsement came at a meeting of U.S., Japanese and South Korean diplomats in San Francisco.
The three-way meeting ended with a strong endorsement of U.S. talks with North Korea, though there was no mention in the joint communique of when a U.S. envoy might make a trip to Pyongyang.
A statement on the San Francisco talks, issued here, said the parties share the view they are facing what was termed a "critical opportunity" to improve relations with the reclusive North Korean government.
It said they affirmed the importance of "comprehensive and flexible" talks with North Korea to resolve their respective issues of concern and it said the South Korean and Japanese sides welcomed U.S. plans to "undertake serious dialogue" with North Korea.
The meeting of the tripartite consultative group, which coordinates policy toward North Korea, was the third one this year. It came after Bush administration envoy Jack Pritchard had what was termed a "constructive" meeting in New York with North Korea's U.N. delegation chief Pak Gil-Yon last Friday on plans for broader talks.
It is widely expected that Mr. Pritchard will pay a visit Pyongyang soon to begin the actual dialogue that the U.S. side says should include, among other things, halting North Korean missile exports and the need for "less threatening" conventional force deployments by Pyongyang to ease Korean tensions.
The administration has made clear its interest in unconditional dialogue with Pyongyang, even though President Bush, in his State-of-the-Union address in January, listed North Korea in an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq because of its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.
In a policy speech June 10, Secretary of State Colin Powell reaffirmed U.S. readiness to take what he termed "important steps" to move U.S.-North Korean relations "toward normalcy," though he said progress depends Pyongyang's behavior on a number of key issues, including compliance with international nuclear safeguards.
Bilateral relations have been stalled since the Bush administration took office in January of last year and ordered a review of a relationship that had warmed to the point where former President Bill Clinton had considered a trip to Pyongyang before stepping down.
Despite critical media commentaries on U.S. policy, North Korea said in late April it was ready to receive a U.S. emissary.
For its part, North Korea has said talks should include an end to the U.S. military presence in South Korea. It also alleges U.S. noncompliance with the 1994 "framework" agreement under which Pyongyang froze its nuclear program, suspected of having a weapons component, in return for two promised Western-designed nuclear power plants and interim supplies of fuel oil.