Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday there was notable progress in the just-completed round of six-party talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear program. A top State Department official meanwhile said an accord ending North Korea's nuclear weapons effort could eventually lead to normal relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Mr. Powell gave the upbeat assessment at an Asian policy event hosted by Washington's conservative Heritage Foundation.
He said the six-party talks, though they didn't produce a breakthrough, did yield "a good deal of progress" including an agreement to "institutionalize" the process through working groups that will plan for the next round expected by July.
He made clear the United States and its partners in the talks are ready to guarantee North Korea's security provided it accepts the formula of a complete and verifiable end to its nuclear weapons program.
"The United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia have made it clear to North Korea that a better future awaits them, that none of these nations is intent on attacking them or destroying them, or exhibiting hostile intent toward them," he said. "Instead we want to help the people of North Korea, who are in such difficulty now. But it must begin with North Korea's understanding that these programs must be ended in a verifiable way."
The secretary said the other five parties to the talks have told Pyongyang that it can join "the North Pacific community" if it ends its nuclear program and embraces the political and economic openness that are carrying virtually all the rest of Asia toward a better future.
The Secretary of State was not specific about political benefits that might accrue to a nuclear-free North Korea. But the U.S. delegation chief at the Beijing talks, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, told Senators that if Pyongyang follows Libya and renounces weapons of mass destruction, it could open the way to a process leading to the full normalization of relations.
"We discussed Libya's example with our North Korean counterparts and we hope they understand its significance," he said. "When North Korea's nuclear issue is resolved discussions would be possible on a wide range of issues that could lead to an improvement or normalization in relations."
Mr. Kelly said the United States would also want to reach understandings with North Korea on its missile program, conventional force deployments and human rights.
The Bush administration has said North Korea should reap no benefit from returning to compliance with nuclear agreements it has violated since the crisis over its weapons program erupted in 2002.
But it has said that in the context of a nuclear accord, it would be prepared to revive a so-called "bold approach" of aid and increased diplomatic recognition.