Obama’s envoy optimistic after North Korea visit


Three days of meetings with top North Korean officials served as “exploratory talks” on how to restart stalled six-party negotiations on nuclear weapons, the first Obama administration envoy to visit Pyongyang said Thursday.

Special envoy Stephen Bosworth told reporters here that he had not seen North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, nor had he requested a meeting. U.S. officials had hoped to gain a promise from the communist regime to resume the nuclear disarmament talks, which it abandoned in 2006 when it conducted a nuclear test.

Bosworth, who arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday, seemed mildly optimistic that he had made some progress in the North Korean capital.

“It remains to be seen when and how the six-party talks will resume,” he said.

“North Korea has agreed on the central importance of six-party talks. . . . [They were] exploratory talks, not negotiations.”

“It was very useful,” he said.

North Korea has pushed for continued direct nuclear talks with the United States rather than a return to the bargaining table on the six-party basis, which would also involve Japan, South Korea, China and Russia.

North Korea also wants to be considered a member of the world’s nuclear-armed nations, a status that the United States and other nations say they will never bestow.

Analysts said Thursday that they had not expected any great results from the initial diplomatic meeting.

“Because this was the first official top-level meeting since the launch of the Obama administration, it could not yield an outcome right away,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul.

“Both countries were expected to seek a middle ground. Perhaps they could have one more high-ranking talk before moving on to the six-party table.”

There was no reaction from North Korea on the meetings. In a terse statement, the state-run Korea Central News Agency said only that Bosworth “and his party left here by air on Thursday.”

Bosworth, who was headed next to China for a meeting with officials there, said he expected North Korea to resume the six-party negotiations and live up to the nuclear disarmament agreement it had made in 2005.

He said he had “extensive and useful talks in a candid and businesslike fashion” with North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Kang Sok Ju, and top nuclear envoy, Kim Kye Gwan.

“I communicated President’s Obama’s view that the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is the fundamental undertaking of the six-party talks, if resumed,” Bosworth said.

Park is a researcher in The Times’ Seoul Bureau.