The former top U.S. envoy for North Korea, Jack Pritchard, says prospects are "grim" for a diplomatic solution to the country's nuclear crisis unless the United States agrees to bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang.
In his first remarks since resigning from the Bush Administration last month, Mr. Pritchard told an audience at the Washington-based Brookings Institution that the current six-nation format for resolving the North Korean nuclear dispute is not likely to be successful.
"The prospects for success, unless the format is slightly altered, are very grim," he said.
Mr. Pritchard resigned on the eve of the most recent six-nation talks in Beijing, prompting reports he may have left after being disappointed with the Bush administration's tough policies toward North Korea. The State Department denied his resignation was policy related.
The former negotiator says bilateral dialogue is necessary, while the Bush administration favors a strategy involving talks that include other countries in the region.
North Korea wants two-party negotiations with the United States aimed at achieving a non-aggression treaty.
Bush administration officials have rejected that approach, arguing that a nuclear-armed North Korea would affect a number of countries and each is entitled to have a voice in the discussions.
Mr. Pritchard said negotiations that include numerous diplomats and dozens of translators are too cumbersome to make progress.
"The idea that in a short period of time that you can resolve this problem, even if you have a commitment to come back in plenary session every couple of months or so is ludicrous, it cannot happen," he said. "What is required is a sustained involvement by the United States with North Korea. Does that mean that we are going to resolve the problem bilaterally? No. We are going to lay the groundwork that will put it back into the six party format for a more regional focus and resolution. But it cannot occur without a sustained and serious dialog between the United States and North Korea."
The former U.S. negotiator says it is not possible to "understand who your opponent is at the negotiating table" unless there has been continuous contact with them over a period of time.
Mr. Pritchard called on the Bush administration to appoint a full time negotiator to work with North Korea to end the impasse over its nuclear program.