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2009/08/25 07:06 KST
N. Korea extends invitation to Bosworth for nuclear talks: sources

By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has requested that Ambassador Stephen Bosworth visit Pyongyang next month to discuss the six-party talks on the North's denuclearization, which have been stalled over international sanctions on North Korea, diplomatic sources here said Monday.

   "We understand that the invitation was extended at around the time when former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang to win the release of two American journalists early this month," a source said.

   It is not clear at the moment if the Barack Obama administration will accept the invitation as it has consistently called for the North to return to the six-party talks, instead of demanding bilateral negotiations, another source said.

   The invitation is a reversal of North Korea's policy as Pyongyang refused to accept Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, in March when he traveled to Asian capitals to discuss the resumption of the multilateral nuclear talks.

   U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed regret at the time that the North rejected Washington's proposal to send Bosworth to Pyongyang.

   The invitation comes amid conciliatory gestures by North Korea both to South Korea and the U.S. after a series of provocations, including nuclear and missile tests, since the inauguration of the Obama administration in January.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-il invited Bill Clinton to Pyongyang and held a three-hour meeting before releasing two American journalists held there for months for illegally entering the North.

   Kim also gave a rare audience to Hyun Jung-eun, chairwoman of South Korea's Hyundai Group, and released a Hyundai employee held at the joint industrial complex in the border town of Kaesong for defamation of the North Korean leadership. He also ordered the resumption of inter-Korean tour projects and facilitation of the operation of the industrial complex.

   Those joint projects faltered under the hardline Lee Myung-bak administration, which demanded the North pledge to scrap its nuclear arsenal before resuming inter-Korean economic cooperation.

   In the first high-level contact since taking office early last year, Lee met Sunday with Kim Ki-nam, secretary of North Korea's ruling Workers Party, on the margins of the state funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who met Kim Jong-il for the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

   Lee's office denied that the North Korean official requested an inter-Korean summit, although reports indicate that Lee told the North Korean official that he will not meet with Kim Jong-il unless he agrees to discuss the North's denuclearization.

   Lee's liberal predecessors, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, both met with Kim Jong-il, but largely bypassed the nuclear issue and focused mainly on food and economic assistance to the impoverished North.

   In a daily news briefing, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly welcomed the rare high-level contact between the two Koreas, but reiterated the U.S. position of engaging the North multilaterally.

   "I would not say that we've seen really any progress toward our oft-stated goal and our clear position that we want to engage with North Korea to discuss the denuclearization issue in the six-party context," Kelly said. "We're very firm on that. We're willing to talk with them bilaterally, but only in this multilateral context."

   Some analysts, however, would not preclude the possibility of the U.S. taking advantage of the thaw in the North's relations with South Korea and the U.S.

   "I believe talks are possible," Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, told Yonhap News Agency. "The U.S. side can hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang while claiming that these talks are still within the context of the six-party talks."

   Roy, however, predicted Pyongyang's strategy will be the same as before.

   "The problem is whether the talks will lead to any breakthrough," he said. "They could offer to consider getting rid of their nuclear weapons if the sanctions are dropped. If pushed further, maybe they would commit to certain, perhaps reversible, steps toward denuclearization."

   New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson last week called on the Obama administration to begin a dialogue with North Korea for its denuclearization.

   "My point here is this is the time to negotiate with them, in a tough way, possibly bilaterally, face-to-face, but within the six-party talks, which is consistent with our policy," Richardson, former U.N. ambassador, said. "I think they were just sending a signal. And the signal is the atmosphere for talks is a lot better."

   Richardson, once nominated by Obama as commerce secretary, met with two North Korean diplomats in Santa Fe Wednesday, and said the North Koreans wanted to "resume a dialogue" and that he will convey that to the Obama administration.