Ex-U.S. envoy makes mystery visit to Pyongyang

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Ex-U.S. envoy makes mystery visit to Pyongyang

A former U.S. nuclear envoy who flew into Pyongyang earlier yesterday did not carry any message from the Obama administration, the State Department said.

“No,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters when asked if Jack Pritchard, president of the Washington-based Korea Economic Institute, carried any message from the U.S. government. “Jack Pritchard is there on a private trip.”

Pritchard, who also served on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, visited North Korea earlier this year to exchange views with officials there on six-party talks for the North’s nuclear dismantlement and on U.S. relations with the reclusive communist state.

Pritchard will meet with U.S. officials upon returning from his trip for debriefing, Crowley said.

“I think Ambassador Pritchard, when he travels and when he returns, frequently calls and provides a perspective on his travel and what he heard,” the spokesman said.

Pritchard’s trip comes amid nearly two years of deadlock over the six-party negotiations due to UN sanctions for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests and the sinking earlier this year of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea. The last nuclear talks were held in December 2008.

Jeff Bader, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, told a separate briefing that North Korea must apologize for the Cheonan’s sinking and show commitment to denuclearization before the talks can resume.

“Our view is that in the wake of the sinking of the South Korean naval ship by a North Korean torpedo, that it’s critical for North Korea to address South Korean concerns about that attack and to give assurances to the South about its future intent, that it will not be aggressive and will not attack the South; that if the North can give satisfactory assurances to the South, then we can contemplate moving back toward talks,” Bader said.

The Obama administration will not continue to reward North Korea just because it is returning to talks after brinkmanship, Bader said.

“What we would need for those talks to resume would be some sort of an indication, some clear indication from the North Koreans that they are sincere in seeking to get rid of their nuclear weapons program,” he said. “They committed to that in a declaration to the six parties in 2005, but in past negotiations, past dealings with the six parties, they have been one step forward, one step backward, sometimes two steps backward. We don’t want to resume a process that has that quality.”

North Korea is also in the process of a power transition to Kim Jong-un, 27, who was promoted to a military general and the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party in September.

Crowley expressed concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities.

“We’re concerned about nuclear tests,” he said. “We’re concerned about missile tests. Sooner or later, the trajectories on both of those would give North Korea a capability that is of concern to the region and destabilizing to the region.”

He was commenting on remarks by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young earlier in the day that North Korea has developed the capability to deploy nuclear warheads on missiles and bombers.

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