Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth's mission to North Korea this week was "quite positive" even though it yielded no firm commitment by Pyongyang to return to Chinese-sponsored talks on its nuclear program. It was the Obama administration's first high-level meeting with North Korea.
U.S. officials had said in advance they did not expect the Bosworth mission to produce an announcement that North Korea was rejoining the six-party talks. But the U.S. envoy and Secretary Clinton are signaling that Pyongyang may be inclined to rejoin the negotiating process that it earlier this year said it had quit.
Bosworth said after arriving in Seoul, following a Pyongyang visit spanning three days, that his talks with senior North Korean officials had been useful, and that there was a "common understanding" on the need for the communist state to implement its 2005 agreement in principle to disarm and return to the negotiating table.
Clinton, who spoke at a press event here with Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Jandrokovic, said it remained to be seen if Pyongyang will actually return to the bargaining.
But she stressed that the Bosworth mission was "exploratory" and said he achieved what he had set out to do, which was to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and sound out the North Koreans on their readiness to move forward.
"I think that for a preliminary meeting it was quite positive," Clinton said. "The approach that our administration is taking is of strategic patience in close coordination with our six-party allies. And I think that making it clear to the North Koreans what we had expected and how we were moving forward is exactly what was called for."
Bosworth, a retired senior U.S. diplomat and academic, will go from South Korea to China, Russia and Japan to brief the other parties to the negotiations on his mission.
Pyongyang said in 2005 it would give up its nuclear program, including weapons, in return for aid and diplomatic benefits from the other participants in the Beijing-based negotiations.
But the process stalled late last year. Pyongyang said it was leaving the talks altogether in April, after international criticism of a long-range missile test it said was a satellite launch. It conducted a second nuclear test in May, but has recently sounded a conciliatory tone.
U.S. officials said on the eve of the Bosworth visit that he is offering Pyongyang no new inducements to return to negotiations and that if North Korea refused, it would mean tighter implementation of U.N. sanctions.