WASHINGTON - The top U.S. official in charge of North Korea policy will travel to Pyongyang next month for the first bilateral nuclear negotiations between the two countries, a senior diplomatic source in Washington has told the JoongAng Ilbo.
Stephen Bosworth, the Barack Obama administration’s special representative for North Korea policy, will head to Pyongyang at the North’s invitation, the source told the newspaper on Sunday, Washington time. Bosworth will be accompanied by Sung Kim, Washington’s point man for the six-nation nuclear talks, he added.
The U.S. delegation will likely visit South Korea, China and Japan in early September and then head to the North, according to the source.
The trip was to be announced officially in early September, immediately before their departure to Pyongyang, the diplomat added.
Noting North Korea’s series of recent positive gestures, the Obama administration sees a high possibility that the delegation will meet with the North’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-il during their trip, the source said.
Bosworth, who served as a U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1997 to 2001, was named by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the administration’s special envoy for the North last February. Following efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear arms program in 1994, Bosworth served as the executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization to implement the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework between Washington and Pyongyang aimed at freezing the North’s nuclear activity.
“Since his appointment in February, Bosworth has openly and repeatedly said he would like to visit North Korea, but Pyongyang snubbed the offer by conducting missile and nuclear tests,” the source said. “The North, however, recently expressed its intention to invite Bosworth.”
According to the source, Washington has decided to send Bosworth to Pyongyang as key obstacles in U.S.-North relations have been removed. Two jailed American reporters were released earlier this month and former U.S. President Bill Clinton confirmed the stability of the Kim Jong-il regime, the source said.
The diplomat said Washington has begun discussions with its partners.
“It’s likely that Bosworth will travel to Asia to explain the situation to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo in early September and then go to Pyongyang,” he said. “A comprehensive package will be offered in return for the North’s denuclearization during his trip to Pyongyang. The U.S. principle of having a bilateral negotiation with the North within the framework of the six-nation talks will remain unchanged.”
Another diplomatic source also said the Obama administration will never abandon the six-nation nuclear talks because it sees the root of Pyongyang’s recent peacemaking gestures in the international community’s participation in the UN sanctions against the North.
“Even if negotiations move forward, the UN sanctions will not be lifted easily,” the source said. “Instead, the Obama administration will likely provide a de facto assurance for the North Korean regime’s security by promising that it will not intervene in the succession of the Kim Jong-il regime to his son while pressuring Kim to give up nuclear programs.”
The outcome of Bosworth’s planned trip, however, remains to be seen. A key official who had handled Korea policy in the Bush administration says that North Korea will never give up nuclear arms programs.
South Korea’s nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac has already met with his U.S. counterpart Sung Kim and Bosworth in Hawaii earlier this month and discussed North Korea issues. The discussions were called brainstorming sessions aimed at finding ways forward, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said at the time.
Bosworth again arrived in Seoul Saturday as part of a 10-member U.S. condolence delegation to attend ex-President Kim Dae-jung’s funeral on Sunday. Pyongyang also sent a condolence delegation to Seoul. Bosworth met with Wi and other Korean officials over the weekend.
It appears that the Obama administration has chosen the strategy of carrot and stick to deal with the nuclear-armed North. A team of U.S. officials handling North Korea issues also arrived in Seoul Sunday for talks with officials here. Unlike Bosworth, they were to seek Seoul’s support to enforce UN sanctions against the North.
Philip Goldberg, the U.S. diplomat tasked with enforcing UN Resolution 1874 adopted to counter Pyongyang’s May 25 nuclear test, met with Wi yesterday. Goldberg led an inter-agency team composed of officials from the Treasury Department, the Defense Department, and the National Security Council at the White House.
According to wire reports, Wi said the objective “is a complete verifiable denuclearization of North Korea,” and Goldberg replied, “Absolutely, that is certainly our goal.”
Following his meeting with Wi, Goldberg addressed the press, reconfirming Washington’s stance on financial sanctions against North Korea. “Our goal is to return to the process of denuclearization, to talks aimed at the goals that are laid out in the UN resolution,” Goldberg said, stressing efforts to implement the resolution.
While noting that inter-Korean tourism is not in the resolution, Goldberg said the international community’s efforts to enforce sanctions on Pyongyang will continue.
South Korea’s Hyundai Group agreed with the North last week to resume stalled tour programs to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong - projects largely seen as a cash cow for Pyongyang.
“My assessment is that at the moment these are issues outside of that resolution. And there are economic and humanitarian developments that are taken into account in the resolution as well,” Goldberg told reporters. He also added that the Kaesong Industrial Complex is outside the resolution.
By Kim Jung-wook, Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]