Envoy calls on N. Korea to return to 6-way talks

September 5, 2009 11:18 pm 

By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 — The U.S. point man on North Korea called Friday for the isolated state to return to six-party disarmament talks, reiterating that bilateral negotiations must be held within the multilateral framework.

Stephen Bosworth, who is on a three-nation Asia tour, also said he will consult with the other members of the talks — South Korea, China, Japan and Russia — on how best to respond to North Korea's demands for two-way dialogue with Washington, and hinted at a possible visit to Pyongyang.

"Well, one of the things that we're doing on this trip is to coordinate with our partners on the way in which we should respond to the invitations that the North Koreans have extended," Bosworth told reporters in Beijing, according to a transcript released by the State Department.

"I have no plans at the moment to go to North Korea," he said.

Bosworth made those remarks just before taking a flight to Seoul, the second leg of his trip, which will also take him to Tokyo.

North Korea reportedly extended an invitation to Bosworth in early August, when former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang to win the release of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

"Based on our consultations, we will return to Washington and our consultations will help to inform the decision making that we go through on how best to re-engage with the North Koreans," Bosworth said. "I would stress that any bilateral (talks) with the North Koreans must be as a part of the six-party process and would be designed to advance that process."

Analysts say that Bosworth may visit Pyongyang on his next Asia trip, describing it as part of the consultations with other six-party members — much like Christopher Hill, then the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, frequently did to woo North Korea back to the multilateral nuclear talks in years past.

North Korea reiterated earlier in the day that it opposes the six-party talks, saying they were used to violate its sovereign right to develop nuclear and rocket technologies.

Pyongyang also warned of "further self-defensive countermeasures" if the international community continues its sanctions under a U.N. resolutions adopted after the North's recent nuclear and missile tests.

Paraphrasing a letter the North sent to the U.N. Security Council, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency reported that it has entered the final stage of uranium enrichment and is building more nuclear weapons with spent fuel rods extracted from its plutonium-producing reactor.

Bosworth expressed concerns over those statements.

"Anything that the North is doing in the area of nuclear development is of concern to us," he said. "These are issues that we are dealing with as they arrive. I think it, for all of us, reconfirms the necessity to maintain a coordinated position on the need for the complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs echoed Bosworth's comments.

"We continue to be committed to ensuring that North Korea upholds its international obligations and we continue to strongly implement the sanctions that were approved," Gibbs said. "Our goal continues to be, and will continue to be the denuclearization."

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, "In general, we are very concerned by these claims that they're moving closer to the weaponization of nuclear materials," but added he is still suspicious of "how true they are."

North Korea had vehemently denied any uranium-based nuclear program until June, when it declared it had begun enriching uranium in response to the international sanctions.

The uranium program was the very factor that disrupted the 1994 Agreed Framework between Pyongyang and Washington, under which North Korea was to freeze its nuclear reactor in return for aid, construction of two light reactors — which are unable to produce weapons-grade plutonium — and diplomatic recognition from Washington.

The former Bush administration withdrew from the light-water reactor project in late 2002, citing the uranium program, and the new negotiating forum, the six-party talks, was created the next year.

The six-party talks produced a deal in September 2005 for the North's denuclearization in exchange for hefty energy and economic aid, normalization of ties, and establishment of a permanent peace regime to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The deal faltered after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.

Reponding to the North's claim that it is in the final stages of the uranium enrichment process, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) called on the Obama administration to relist Pyongyang as a state sponsor of terrorism.

"North Korea's admission that it has reached the concluding stage of its uranium enrichment program demonstrates that current U.S. policy toward that outlaw regime has failed," the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement.

"U.S. outreach and concessions to the North Korean regime have only encouraged it to accelerate its nuclear weapons program, using two separate tracks to advance its menacing agenda," she said. "The U.S. should learn from its mistakes and impose the maximum pressure on the regime, beginning with putting it back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list."

The Senate adopted a resolution in July calling on the Obama administration to "assess the effectiveness" of relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism amid growing suspicions over North Korea's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea was first put on the terrorism list soon after it downed a South Korean airplane over Myanmar in 1987, killing all 115 passengers. It was delisted in October 2008, paving the way for a fresh round of the six-party talks, which had been deadlocked for nearly a year. (PNA/Yonhap) scs//rsm

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