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2009/05/14 10:51 KST


Bilateral Dialogue Possible Despite N.K. Rhetoric Against Obama

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite North Korea's boycott of the six-party talks and denouncement of the U.S. administration aside, there are emerging signs that bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea may be possible in the weeks ahead. Speculation is mounting that a key U.S. official will likely visit Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for the future negotiations on such thorny issues as the North's denuclearization and other related issues.

   The possibility of direct dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington was raised when U.S. President Barack Obama's point man on North Korea recently made a visit to China, South Korea and Japan, where he had extensive dialogue with related officials to find a breakthrough on the deadlocked issue.

   Stephen W. Bosworth, special U.S. representative on North Korea policy, began his week-long three-nation tour on May 7 aimed at reviving the six-nation disarmament talks, the continuation of which came into question after the North fired a long-range rocket early last month. The U.N. Security Council condemned the North's rocket launch, followed by sanctions placed on three North Korean firms last month.

   The North has threatened to boycott the talks, restart its nuclear facilities and conduct further nuclear and ballistic missile tests unless the Security Council apologizes for its condemnation. North Korea insists the purpose of the launch was to put a satellite into orbit, a claim the U.S. and its allies dismiss as a guise for what was a ballistic missile test.

   During Bosworth's trip to Seoul, South Korea and the U.S. agreed that the door to dialogue with North Korea should be kept open despite a salvo of threats by Pyongyang, but also warned the North will face "consequences" if it puts the threats into action.

   Shortly before Bosworth's arrival in Seoul on May 8, North Korea's foreign ministry issued a statement accusing the Barack Obama administration of being hostile towards Pyongyang.

   "If the North Koreans decide to carry out a second nuclear test, we will deal with the consequences of that, and there will be consequences," Bosworth told reporters after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan.

   But in Tokyo, the last leg of his regional tour, Bosworth reiterated his pledge to concurrently seek bilateral dialogue with the North, emphasizing that President Obama remains committed to engaging with Pyongyang both bilaterally and through the six-party talks. "We are committed to dialogue, and we are obviously interested in returning to the negotiating table as soon as we can, but this is not a decision that depends on us. It also depends on the DPRK," Bosworth said.

   In its most recent threat, North Korea announced on the day of Bosworth's arrival in Seoul that dialogue with the U.S. was useless due to its "hostile policy" toward the North, and reaffirmed its pledge to bolster its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against a possible attack from the U.S. and its allies.

   "The study of the policy pursued by the Obama administration for the past 100 days since its emergence made it clear that the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK remains unchanged," the North's Foreign Ministry proclaimed in a report carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

   Bosworth, meanwhile, reiterated the Obama administration's pledge to concurrently seek bilateral dialogue with the North. "I think that it is clearly understood that the possibility of direct dialogue between the U.S. and the DPRK is very much with us," he said, emphasizing this was the stance of the president. "I operate under our president's instructions on an ongoing basis."

   Ian Kelly, State Department spokesman, said Bosworth's remarks were intended to show that the U.S. "would consider direct talks with North Korea if it was in the context of the six-party talks." Speaking to a daily news briefing on May 12, Kelly added that Bosworth "believes that he got good consensus from his partners on the way forward in dealing with this issue of trying to reach the denuclearization of North Korea."

   Still, Pyongyang has reactivated its plutonium-producing reactor in Yongbyon, threatened to conduct a second nuclear test and to develop a uranium enrichment program unless the council issues an apology for its condemnation of the North's April 5 rocket launch. North Korea first detonated a nuclear device at an underground facility in 2006 and opinions vary over whether it will detonate a second one.

   U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates dismissed the North's recent threats as "rhetoric" on May 11, but Gary Samore, Obama's policy coordinator on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, said last week that he believes North Korea will conduct another nuclear test as it has threatened to do.

   Bosworth's Asia tour was his second since taking office in February as the U.S. point man on North Korea. Pyongyang was not on either of his itineraries. In early March, North Korea rejected his proposal for a visit for unknown reasons, and this time Bosworth did not request a visit.

   In Beijing on May 7, the first stop in his three nation tour, Bosworth did however reaffirm that Washington is willing to engage in both multilateral and bilateral talks with Pyongyang to break the stalemate.

   "The United States reiterates its desire to engage both multilaterally and bilaterally with North Korea and we believe very strongly that the solution to the tensions and problems of the area now lies best in dialogue and negotiation," he told reporters after meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei.

   Some analysts say the North's recent moves are in fact an attempt to revive bilateral talks with the U.S., which were discontinued after President George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001.

   The Bill Clinton administration sought high-level bilateral dialogue with the North in his waning months in office with exchange visits by then- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and North Korean Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok to their respective capitals. The visits came soon after the North's launch of its first ballistic missile into the Pacific Ocean. Commenting on the exchanges, Albright recently said, "Ultimately, I think that what the North Koreans want are bilateral talks with the United States."