US envoy likely to visit N Korea next month
President Barack Obama's special envoy on North Korea is likely to visit the communist nation next month for the first nuclear negotiations between the two countries under his presidency, a news report said on Tuesday.world Updated: Aug 26, 2009 12:58 IST
President Barack Obama's special envoy on North Korea is likely to visit the communist nation next month for the first nuclear negotiations between the two countries under his presidency, a news report said on Tuesday.
North Korea recently invited special envoy Stephen Bosworth and chief nuclear negotiator Sung Kim to Pyongyang, and the US government is strongly considering their trip to the North next month, Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo daily reported.
The US diplomats may be able to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the visit, considering Pyongyang's recent conciliatory attitude, the report said, citing an unidentified high-level diplomatic source in Washington.
Yonhap news agency also reported that the North has invited the two officials and that the US is reviewing the offer. Comments from the US Embassy in Seoul were not immediately available.
The reported trip, if realized, would mark the first nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea under the Obama administration.
Over the past year, North Korea had been stoking tensions with nuclear and missile tests while boycotting international nuclear talks. But in recent weeks, it has become markedly more conciliatory toward the US and South Korea.
The North freed two American journalists following a trip to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton earlier this month. It has also released a South Korean worker it held for more than four months, agreed to lift restrictions on border crossings with the South, and pledged to resume suspended joint inter-Korean projects and reunions of families separated during the Korean War over five decades ago.
On Tuesday, Pyongyang accepted a South Korean offer to hold Red Cross talks from Wednesday to Friday to organize a new round of reunions of separated families, Yonhap news agency reported. Seoul's Unification Ministry said it was checking the report. Pyongyang wants to negotiate directly with the Washington. The US has said it is willing to talk bilaterally to Pyongyang, but only within the framework of the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.
"I would not say that we've seen really any progress toward our oft-stated goal and our clear position that we want to engage with North Korea to discuss this denuclearization issue in the six-party context," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. Despite the series of overtures from Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington have remained firm that they need to see North Korea taking concrete steps on ending its nuclear programs before they consider softening their stance on a nation known for backtracking on agreements.
"We are sticking to our existing position that we will continue faithfully carrying out UN resolutions while urging North Korea to return to six-party talks" on its nuclear programs, Moon said of the outcome of talks over the weekend between Bosworth and South Korean officials.
Washington, for its part, has been keeping up pressure on Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs, sending a senior official to Asia to seek support for stringent implementation of the UN sanctions meant to punish the North for its May 25 nuclear test.
North Korea has long balanced stoking tensions with conciliatory overtures to extract concessions and head off sanctions. After a long impasse in the nuclear standoff, Pyongyang carried out its first-ever nuclear test in 2006. The bold move resulted in a UN sanctions resolution, but the North got away unscathed by agreeing to return to the negotiating table.
Subsequent talks made some progress, but stalled again later and led to Pyongyang's second nuclear test in May.
South Korea and the US have repeatedly said they won't repeat the same mistake again.