Obama’s envoy visits North Korea to discuss revival of stalled disarmament talks


Characterizing three days of high-level discussions with North Korean officials, U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth said today he began “exploratory talks” on how to restart the stalled six-party nuclear disarmament negotiations.

Speaking at a news conference here, the former U.S. ambassador to Seoul and President Obama’s point man on North Korea said he did not see leader Kim Jong Il during his trip to Pyongyang, nor did he request a meeting.

U.S. officials had hoped to gain a promise from Pyongyang to resume nuclear disarmament talks, which North Korea abandoned in 2006 when it conducted a nuclear test.

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

“It remains to be seen when and where the six-party talks will resume,” he said. “North Korea has agreed on the central importance of six-party talks. It was exploratory talks, not negotiations. It was very useful.”

Pyongyang has pushed for continued one-on-one 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 new member of the world’s nuclear-armed nations, a status the U.S. and other nations say they will never bestow.

Analysts today said 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.”

Bosworth’s trip to North Korea is the first by a U.S. official since Obama took office in January.

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.”

Before moving on to China for a meeting with officials there, Bosworth said he expected North Korea to resume the six-party talks and live up to its 2005 nuclear disarmament agreement.

He finished what he called “extensive and useful talks in a candid and businesslike fashion” with the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju and its 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