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.