A senior U.S. diplomat will travel to North Korea before year's end to try to pull the Koreans back into international negotiations on nuclear disarmament, the State Department said Tuesday.
Stephen Bosworth, the administration's special envoy for North Korea, also will try to get the North Koreans to recommit to an agreement they made in September 2005 _ but subsequently abandoned _ to verifiably rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear arms, department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
"The bottom line here is that North Korea has to take affirmative steps toward denuclearization," Crowley said.
He declined to say whether the North Koreans had promised _ during a series of recent contacts about arranging the Bosworth meeting _ to rejoin the so-called six-party talks in which the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea have sought for six years to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear program.
Nor is it clear that the North Koreans are ready to embrace the September 2005 commitment they made, as part of that six-party negotiation, to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that prohibits their production of nuclear weapons.
As part of the 2005 commitment, the U.S. affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula and that it has no intention to attack or invade North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons.
Those fragile moves toward denuclearization unraveled in subsequent years, and last spring the North Koreans abruptly quit the six-party talks and said they would never return. After a series of provocative actions, including a May 25 nuclear test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the North Koreans again switched gears and began what Crowley on Tuesday called a "charm offensive."
In late summer the North Koreans invited Bosworth to visit, but it took the U.S. months of deliberations before agreeing. Crowley said no date for his visit had been set but that it likely would be before the end of the year. He said it was not clear whether Bosworth would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
The Bosworth visit will be the first direct one-on-one U.S. talks with North Korea since President Barack Obama took office.
As a way to pressure North Korea to return to the six-party talks, Washington has been seeking international support for strict enforcement of a U.N. sanctions resolution adopted in June to punish the North for its May 25 nuclear test.
Crowley alluded to previous suggestions by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other administration officials that if North Korea takes positive steps toward denuclearization _ beyond simply returning to the six-party talks _ then the U.S. would be prepared to offer some unspecified incentives.
"As we've said many, many times, if North Korea takes the kind of steps that they've committed to in the past, you know, other possibilities open up," Crowley said. "But first and foremost, the purpose of this meeting is to get them back into the six-party process and move them down a path towards denuclearization. Other things can happen after that, but that's what we're focused on right now."
Clinton is in Singapore, where she will meet Wednesday with Asia-Pacific foreign ministers for talks that will touch on North Korea. Obama also will be in Asia this week; his visit will include stops in Japan, China and South Korea, where the prospects for progress on North Korea is certain to be a major topic.