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Ex-envoy: NKorea expresses openness to nuke talks

N Korean officials have expressed willingness to move forward with long-stalled denuclearization talks and have downplayed recent reports that the regime is preparing to test-fire a long-range missile, a former US diplomat said.

world Updated: Feb 07, 2009 13:29 IST

North Korean officials have expressed willingness to move forward with long-stalled denuclearization talks and have downplayed recent reports that the regime is preparing to test-fire a long-range missile, a former US diplomat said on Saturday after a private visit to Pyongyang.

The message given to former envoy Stephen Bosworth was in contrast to North Korea's increasingly belligerent rhetoric recently. Over the past few weeks, Pyongyang has announced it would scrap peace agreements with South Korea, warned the divided peninsula was on the brink of war and appeared to be preparing to test a missile capable of reaching the western United States. Bosworth, the former US Ambassador to South Korea and now an academic, said the officials he met with kept an upbeat tone regarding the nuclear talks and a willingness to talk to President Barack Obama's administration.

"We can continue to work towards eventual denuclearization of Korean peninsula," Bosworth said after arriving at Beijing's international airport. "They understand the Obama administration will need some time to sort itself through the policy review and they expressed patience, there is no sense of alarm or urgency," Bosworth, currently the dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University in the US state of Massachusetts, said the delegation of academics he was traveling with expressed concern about the alleged missile launch plans.

"We indicated there was concern that they might be preparing for a missile launch, they said that we should all wait and see," he said. "There was no threat, no indication that they were concerned, they treated the missile issue as just a normal run of the mill issue."

He did not give the names of the officials he met with during the five day visit, but said they were from foreign affairs, defense and the economy. His group was on a private visit and not representing the US government.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to name a special representative for North Korea, but the timing is uncertain. She has praised the Bush administration's use of six-nation disarmament talks, which are now stalled over North Korea's refusal to agree to a nuclear verification process, but has said little else.

Clinton's first trip to Asia since taking her new post will come later this month, with visits to Japan, South Korea and China, three nations that, along with the United States and Russia, are pressing the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.