The US state department said on Friday it was prepared to hold direct talks with North Korea to try to coax it back into multilateral negotiations on ending its nuclear programs.
Previously, US officials had sent mixed signals about direct meetings, at times saying Pyongyang must first commit to resume multilateral discussions and at others saying bilateral talks could only occur “in the context” of the multilateral discussions.
The department denied changing its policy on direct talks, saying any bilateral meeting would be to bring Pyongyang back to multilateral talks.
“We are prepared to enter into a bilateral discussion with North Korea,” state department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.
“When it’ll happen, where it’ll happen, we’ll have to wait and see,” he added. “We’ve made no decisions at this point, other than just to say we are prepared for a bilateral talk, if that will help advance the six-party process.”
North Korea agreed in September 2005 to abandon its nuclear programs in an aid-for-disarmament agreement hammered out among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States in the so-called six-party talks.
The process has unfolded in fits and starts, with North Korea taking some steps to disable its nuclear facilities but also testing a nuclear device in 2006 and again in May, leading the others to question its commitment to the deal.
The six-party talks broke down at the end of last year, with the North declaring the process to be “dead,” and the Obama administration is searching for a way to revive them.
US officials believe that the multilateral talks have the highest chances of persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions chiefly because their host, China, has greater influence over North Korea than the United States.
Crowley said it was unlikely bilateral talks would take place before the UN General Assembly this month and he declined to say whether US special envoy Stephen Bosworth might accept the North’s invitation to visit Pyongyang.