A British diplomat returning from North Korea says it remains unclear whether there will be a fourth round of nuclear disarmament talks this month. However, the official said Pyongyang remains committed to the negotiations process.
British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell says North Korean leaders indicated they are committed to resolving the nuclear crisis through six-way negotiations. But, he says, they did not tell him if they would make good on their earlier agreement to return to multiparty negotiations by the end of this month.
"At the end of the discussions, what was clear to me was that the North Koreans were saying they were still committed to the six-party talks process but weren't prepared to commit to a date," says Mr. Rammell. "I simply said to them, 'you have got to come back to the table.'"
Mr. Rammell spoke to reporters in Beijing on his way home to London after a visit to Pyongyang.
A number of diplomats from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea have been in consultations over the past few days, trying to get the talks going. A fourth round of negotiations, which also include Russia, was tentatively planned for next week. The talks are meant to persuade Pyongyang to abandon efforts to build nuclear weapons.
Mr. Rammell says North Korean officials did not give him a clear reason for why they are hesitant to return to the talks. "They claim that since the last round of the six party talks, there have been adverse developments," he says. "I have to say their reasoning I did not find convincing and different people gave me different reasons as to why they were not coming back to the table."
Mr. Rammell says one obstacle presented by the North Koreans is a recent revelation that South Korean scientists secretly conducted uranium and plutonium experiments - a disclosure that prompted North Korea last week to threaten an arms race.
The British official says he called on Pyongyang officials not use that as an excuse to stay away from negotiations. Some analysts also have speculated that North Korea may be waiting for the outcome of the November presidential elections in the United States before deciding how to proceed.
The British diplomat's visit to Pyongyang came amid continuing concerns over the cause of a large explosion in a remote part of North Korea. Pyongyang officials have said the blast was part of a hydro-electric dam project.
North Korea has offered to let Britain's ambassador and other diplomats in Pyongyang inspect the location. British officials say they are making preparations for the trip to the area.