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(3rd LD) Bosworth open to talks on peace treaty during Pyongyang trip: official

All Headlines 17:52 December 07, 2009

(ATTN: CHANGES headline; UPDATES throughout with S. Korean official's background briefing)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Dec. 7 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's North Korea envoy, Stephen Bosworth, is open to discussions on signing a peace treaty with North Korea during his forthcoming trip to Pyongyang in exchange for the communist regime's promise to rejoin the dormant six-way nuclear talks, a senior South Korean official said Monday.

Bosworth's primary mission is to secure the North's pledge to return to the Beijing-based negotiations and its commitment to the Sept. 19, 2005 Joint Statement, in which it vowed to abandon its nuclear program in return for political and economic incentives, the official told reporters in a background briefing after the U.S. envoy's back-to-back meetings with top South Korean officials, including Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and top nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac.

"The issue (of a peace treaty) can be discussed if North Korea promises to come back to the six-party talks," he said on the customary condition of anonymity.

He added that Bosworth may also discuss the possibility of setting up a liaison office in the North Korean capital in talks with Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju during his three-day trip there from Tuesday. The establishment of the office would be a pre-step to the normalization of diplomatic ties between the adversaries that fiercely fought the 1950-53 Korean War. The war ended in an armistice, not a formal peace pact, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically at war.

Bosworth is scheduled to leave Seoul for Pyongyang at around Tuesday noon for what would be the first one-on-one dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea under the Obama administration.

For Bosworth, it would be his first meeting with Kang, known to oversee Pyongyang's diplomatic policy, in 13 years after they met in 1996 when Bosworth worked as executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).

While Bosworth has avoided media contact here, South Korean officials said it is uncertain whether he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang and deliver Obama's personal letter to him.

They pointed out that Bosworth's decision to stop in Seoul en route to Pyongyang shows Washington's will to closely cooperate with its ally in dealing with the North.

It is a clear signal to the public and other participants in the six-way nuclear talks that South Korea and the U.S. are in close consultations, the South's nuclear envoy Wi said. The multilateral talks based in Beijing also involve China, Russia, and Japan.

Bosworth replied, "That was not an accident. We intended that."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said in a twice-weekly press briefing that it is premature to predict the outcome of Bosworth's high-stakes visit.

The veteran diplomat Bosworth, who once served as Washington's ambassador to Seoul, has been guarded in public.

He avoided media contact here, arriving at an international airport west of Seoul on Sunday afternoon. He gave the short comments in front of pool reporters at his meeting with Wi.

U.S. Embassy officials said he has no plans to meet the press separately before his journey to North Korea this week.

South Korean foreign ministry officials said this reflects Washington's careful approach to the trip, which has drawn keen media attention.

Bosworth agreed to Wi's remarks that "we don't need to encourage" the media too much. The U.S. has been cautious not to raise media expectations too high and give the wrong signal to North Korea, emphasizing that the envoy's trip is aimed only at trying to bring the North back to the six-party talks, not to have any substantial talks on denuclearization issues to be discussed at the multilateral forum. The North apparently wants to discuss its hope for a peace treaty to replace the armistice for the ultimate goal of being recognized as a nuclear state.

Bosworth plans to return to Seoul on Thursday and brief South Korean officials on the results of his visit. He will then head to China on Friday, followed by trips to Japan and Russia.

Meanwhile, the South Korean foreign ministry spokesman said South Korea, the U.S., and Japan have been working on a road map for the denuclearization of the peninsula.

Japan's Asahi newspaper earlier said the three countries have begun work on the road map.


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