U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is encouraged by signs of progress in efforts to re-start Chinese-sponsored negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program. Clinton met Friday with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan.
Clinton's expression of optimism came amid a background of intensive diplomacy on the nuclear issue including a mission to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo this week by U.S. North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth.
The U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, veteran diplomat Sung Kim, traveled with Bosworth but returned to Washington just in time to join Clinton for her luncheon meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu.
At a photo session with Yu after the meeting, Clinton said the outlook for new talks is encouraging. "Ambassador Sung Kim, and Ambassador Stephen Bosworth are quite heartened by the movement that we see in our joint efforts. Obviously we are closely cooperating with our allies, (South) Korea and Japan, in anything we do toward North Korea. And we are working with the Chinese to bring about the resumption of the six-party talks. Ultimately, it is up to the North Koreans. But we are encouraged by signs of progress to return to the talks that we are seeing," she said.
The six party talks, involving the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, the United States and host China stalled at the end of 2008.
North Korea agreed in principle in 2005 to scrap its nuclear program, including weapons, in return for aid and diplomatic benefits from the other participating countries.
It has recently told visiting diplomats including U.S. envoy Bosworth and Chinese officials that it still adheres to its undertakings in the six-party process, but has not given any date for a return to the talks.
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Friday "the ball is in North Korea's court."
He said U.S. officials see the potential for a resumption of negotiations in the coming weeks, or months, but the key is a signal from Pyongyang that it is prepared to make that commitment.
A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters said Clinton and her South Korean counterpart discussed what he said was the disastrous state of the North Korean economy following the failure of recent monetary reforms.
He said Pyongyang is likely to require the kind international assistance it would gain through a successful resolution of the nuclear issue, and U.S. officials thus believe that "circumstances are pointing towards" a North Korean decision to return to negotiations.