This article originally appeared in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose mission is preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The Obama administration on Sunday announced it would receive a high-ranking North Korean official this week in New York for talks that would be focused on potentially relaunching long-dormant negotiations on the North's nuclear program.
The State Department announcement came days after the top nuclear envoys for Seoul and Pyongyang held direct talks at a regional security forum in Indonesia. The South had demanded that inter-Korean nuclear talks come before any other international engagement with its neighboring regime.
At Washington's invitation, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan will meet with U.S. officials from several agencies to consider what actions are required to relaunch the stalled aid-for-denuclearization talks that encompass China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia, and the United States. The multinational negotiations have had limited success in driving the North toward denuclearization; they were last held in December 2008.
"This will be an exploratory meeting to determine if North Korea is prepared to affirm its obligations under international and six-party talk commitments, as well as take concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a press statement.
"As we have stated repeatedly, we are open to talks with North Korea, but we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table," she said. "We will not give them anything new for actions they have already agreed to take. And we have no appetite for pursuing protracted negotiations that will only lead us right back to where we have already been.
"The U.S. position remains that North Korea must comply with its commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, and the terms of the armistice agreement" that ended the Korean War, the secretary said.
The official from Pyongyang is anticipated to meet in New York with officials including U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth, according to the Yonhap News Agency. The two men had a face-to-face in North Korea in late 2009, The New York Times reported.
U.S. special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues Robert King could also meet with Kim, according to a report by Radio Free Asia.
At the Friday meeting in Bali, the South and North Korean representatives agreed to work to relaunch the six-nation negotiations "as soon as possible," The Washington Post reported.
Seoul's stance is notable, considering its long-standing opposition to any moves that could be viewed as conciliatory to the Stalinist state following two 2010 attacks that killed 50 South Koreans. North Korea has refused repeated demands by Seoul to apologize for the March 2010 sinking of the warship Cheonan and the November artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island.
Recently, however, the Obama administration has urged Seoul to resume talks with its longtime antagonist, asking that the South take the initiative. Washington and Tokyo had previously agreed to honor Seoul's position that inter-Korean relations be improved before multinational engagement was resumed.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., at the confirmation hearing last week for President Obama's nominee for U.S. ambassador to South Korea, cautioned that, "given North Korea's recent irresponsible conduct, staying in a diplomatic holding pattern invites a dangerous situation to get even worse."
In the last weeks, "the U.S. has definitely put some pressure on the South Korean government about beginning talks with North Korea," Sejong Institute analyst Hong Hyeon-ik said in Seoul.
Obama officials applauded the North-South contact at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional security forum while emphasizing the United States would proceed forward cautiously, The Post reported.
"There's no determination to rush into anything. When you're dealing with the North Koreans, understanding the importance of patience is clearly a virtue," an anonymous State Department official at the security forum said.
The Stalinist state has called for quickly relaunching the six-nation negotiations on an unconditional basis, Reuters reported on Saturday.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi discussed the status of the talks with his North Korean opposite, Pak Ui Chun, at the ASEAN security forum, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Pyongyang has proposed holding four-way nuclear talks that involve the two Koreas, Beijing, and Washington but leave out Moscow and Tokyo, Kyodo News reported on Monday.
North Korean nuclear envoy Ri Yong Yo made the suggestion during his Friday meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Wi Sung-lac, and later during a Saturday conversation with Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
The aspiring nuclear power appears to believe that four-nation talks would provide a simpler path to achieving a formal peace treaty to take the place of the 1953 armistice agreement. North Korea also apparently thinks it can ensure that the 2010 attacks are not discussed if Japan and Russia are excluded.
Tokyo historically sides with Seoul against the North, while Moscow is seen as less likely to supply the strong support for North Korea that China typically does. Seoul is reportedly not pleased with the four-party talks proposal, arguing that no strong rationale exists for changing the negotiating format.
The United States and South Korea have not dropped their demand that Pyongyang first demonstrate its commitment to permanent nuclear disarmament before they return to negotiations, Reuters reported on Monday.
"North Korea's reversal is dramatic, but the U.S. and South Korea remain properly suspicious that Pyongyang has no intention of actually fulfilling its denuclearization commitments," Heritage Foundation analyst Bruce Klingner told the news agency. "Vague promises simply to 'make efforts to resume six-party talks' are not grounds for exuberant optimism."
On Monday, the State Department's lead official for East Asian Affairs, Kurt Campbell, said that the coming meeting in New York was "preliminary" and did not automatically equate to a step toward resuming the six-nation negotiations.
"We have very clear pre-steps related to nuclear issues, related to proliferation concerns, that we will need to see clearly articulated by the North Koreans if we are to go forward," the assistant Secretary of State said.
An unidentified aide to the South Korean president said, "We are ready to talk with them anytime and anywhere only if the North shows its willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons development program."
Experts expect that North Korea will seek to extract economic concessions from the diplomatic talks.
"Pyongyang leaders needs concessions, largely of monetary nature," Kookmin University academic Andrei Lankov said from South Korea. "If they are not getting what they want, they will switch to confrontational mood again."
Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd suggested his nation could eventually be a possible target for a nuclear strike should Pyongyang press ahead with its atomic-arms activities, the Australian Herald Sun reported on Saturday.
Rudd said that Canberra views seriously the potential threat of a North Korean nuclear attack.
"What I'm talking about very bluntly is, firstly the development of nuclear weapons; secondly, the weaponization of nuclear material; and thirdly, the deployment of weaponized material into missiles -- short, medium, and, over time, long-range," the minister said.
"If it's a long-range missile which is developed over time, and that is the question ... then of course it represents a threat to Australia," Rudd said at the Bali security summit.
Rudd also castigated North Korea for enriching uranium in violation of of two U.N. Security Council resolutions.