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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 72 (September 17, 2009)

All Headlines 11:09 September 17, 2009

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

U.S. to Have Bilateral Talks With N.K. to Resume Six-party Process

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United States said on Sept. 11 it will soon undertake bilateral negotiations with North Korea to persuade Pyongyang to return to the stalled six-party talks on its denuclearization.

"We are prepared to enter into a bilateral discussion with North Korea ... and it's designed to convince North Korea to come back to the six-party process and to take affirmative steps towards denuclearization," said Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs. "If a bilateral discussion can lead us back to a six-party process, we think that is a legitimate means to a desirable end."

The move is seen as an attempt to revive the six-nation negotiations, deadlocked over international sanctions on North Korea after the North's nuclear and missile tests earlier this year. The six-way talks were last held in December.

North Korea has said it will boycott the multilateral talks for good, complaining they have been used to infringe upon its sovereign right to develop nuclear and space technology.

Pyongyang has demanded Washington deal with it bilaterally for a breakthrough, while Washington insisted on resolving the dispute through the six-party process also involving South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

Crowley would not describe the impending two-way meetings with the North as a policy shift by the U.S. "And just to be clear, any discussion that we would have with North Korea will be in the context of the six-party process," the spokesman said.

"The purpose of that discussion will be to try to convince North Korea to return, you know, to a multilateral process, and, more specifically, to go back to its obligations in its agreement in 2005 to denuclearize."

The six-party agreement, signed in September 2005, calls for North Korea's nuclear dismantlement in return for massive energy and economic aid, normalization of ties with Washington and Tokyo and the establishment of a permanent peace regime to replace the fragile armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Crowley said that details on bilateral dialogue will be determined soon. "Given the consultations that we have, given the invitation that was extended, we'll make some decisions, you know, in the next couple of weeks," he said.

Crowley was referring to the invitation extended to Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, by North Korea last month when former U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang. Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and won the release of two American journalists held there for months for illegal entry.

Reports said that other parties to the six-way talks have already agreed that Washington should have bilateral dialogue with Pyongyang as part of the six-party process to promote resumption of the multilateral talks.

Analysts said that Bosworth may fly to Pyongyang next month in what Washington calls a trip to woo the reluctant North back to the six-party talks. There are concerns that Pyongyang might want to use the trip as the beginning of continued bilateral negotiations.

The decision for bilaterals comes amid criticism that North Korea is building its nuclear arsenal for lack of active engagement by the Barack Obama administration. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, was often under fire for designating Pyongyang as part of an axis of evil and then ignoring it, only to see the North conduct a nuclear test and build several nuclear warheads.

North Korea said recently it was entering the final stages of a uranium enrichment process, another path to making nuclear weapons. The North's plutonium-producing reactor was to be dismantled under the six-party deal.

Crowley also did not rule out the possibility of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or other senior U.S. officials meeting with North Korean diplomats at the United Nations later this month.

On Sept. 14, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States will consider holding one-on-one talks with North Korea, but that any meeting would be within the framework of six-nation negotiations. His remark came as a response to North Korea's invitation to the U.S. envoy. It also echoed comments by other Washington officials and reaffirmed the White House's commitment to international cooperation in disarming the communist state.

"We will not have any substantive bilateral talks with North Korea that's outside of the six-party context ... our goal is to get North Korea to return to the six-party context," Kelly said in a daily news briefing.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government would not object to a direct meeting between the U.S. and North Korea if it aims to restart stalled multilateral dialogue on denuclearizing the North, a government spokesperson said Sept. 14

"We are not against bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea if they do not replace the six-party talks and are intended to expedite the six-party process aimed at denuclearizing North Korea," Moon Tae-young, spokesperson for Seoul's foreign ministry, said in a press briefing.

Moon underscored the presence of "joint recognition" between Seoul and Washington on the need to resume the six-party talks. The spokesperson also said the two countries agree that U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea for its nuclear tests and military provocations should be maintained while keeping the door open for dialogue.

On inter-Korean dialogue, Moon said South Korea does not yet have any plans to hold direct talks with the North during the U.N. General Assembly scheduled for next week in New York.

Wi Sung-lac, Seoul's envoy to the six-party talks, will visit the U.S. over the weekend, accompanying Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan to the U.N. General Assembly. Wi's schedule has not been fixed, but he is largely expected to meet with senior U.S. officials for consultations on the expected Pyongyang-Washington bilateral meeting.

The six-nation negotiations, which began in 2003, have been deadlocked since late last year over how to verify North Korea's denuclearization efforts. North Korea withdrew from the talks in April, and said it has restarted its main reactor and is weaponizing processed plutonium.

As Washington weighs its options, some warn that further isolating the North will only lead it to amass a greater nuclear arsenal.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) urged the Obama administration to engage the North more actively. "We must resist the temptation to go into a defensive crouch," said Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at a forum here organized by a group of Korean-Americans supporting engagement with the North.

"The past teaches us that benign neglect of the North Korea challenge is not a viable option. The U.S. must lead efforts to stop the current negative cycle of action and reaction and begin the hard diplomatic work needed to deliver results."

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Kathleen Stephens, also echoed the U.S. State Department's stance on North Korea, saying Sept. 14 that the U.S. will seek North Korea's denuclearization through the six-party talks rather than bilateral negotiations, and continue sanctioning Pyongyang unless it returns to the multilateral table.

She made the point at a forum in Washington after winding up an annual week-long speaking tour of several U.S. cities, along with the South Korean ambassador to the U.S., Han Duck-soo, to discuss North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the U.S. alliance and other issues of mutual concern.

"Six parties seem to be the right party given their obvious interest, and we think it's important that the international community speaks in one voice," Stephens told the forum.

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