U.S. to meet North Korea about resuming stalled talks
REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- U.S. representatives will meet a North Korean delegation next week in Geneva to test whether the regime in Pyongyang is interested in resuming stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons program, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The meetings, to be held Monday and Tuesday, follow talks in late July in New York. But U.S. officials made clear that they were not yet persuaded that North Korea, after repeated breakdowns of previous talks, had any real interest in carrying out pledges to unload its nuclear effort.
"We are not going to reward North Korea for just returning to the table, nor give them anything new for action they have agreed to take, but want to see that they’re committed to take the process forward," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
Pyongyang walked out of the talks in April 2009, after it was censured for a long-range missile test. Sharpening tensions, last year the regime conducted a second nuclear weapons test and disclosed that it has been working on a uranium enrichment process that could give it another means of developing such weapons.
North Korea was also blamed by South Korea last year for two military attacks, including the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.
In the new round of talks, the United States will be represented by Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency and a veteran foreign service officer, rather than by Stephen Bosworth, a Korea specialist who held the job on a part-time basis. Officials said the personnel shift didn’t signal any policy change.
U.S. officials want North Korea to take a series of steps before a return to full six-party talks, which include representatives of the United States, North Korea and South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.
They want Pyongyang to affirm that it will fulfill the denuclearization pledge it made in 2005, halt activities at its Yongbyon nuclear plant and its uranium enrichment facility, suspend nuclear and missile tests, and promise not to attack South Korea.
Victor Cha, a former Bush administration official at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that even if the talks go nowhere, they may help avert "a runaway nuclear program and more provocations."
"Dialogue may not get denuclearization, but it does help to manage the situation, avert a crisis [in an election year] and possibly offer smaller victories in freezing elements of the program," Cha said. "It’s not great, but it’s all we can hope for."
-- Paul Richter
Photo: Ambassador Glyn Davies before the start of an International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors meeting in Vienna in September. Credit: Ronald Zak / Associated Press