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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 84 (December 10, 2009)

All Headlines 11:40 December 10, 2009

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

U.S. Envoy in North Korea for Crucial Talks on Denuclearization

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The top U.S. envoy to North Korea started a rare trip to Pyongyang on Dec. 8 aiming to set the tone for relations between the two sides under the administration of President Barack Obama, who has vowed to engage America's traditional adversaries in order to achieve his goal of a nuclear-free world.

Stephen Bosworth is the highest American official to visit North Korea since October 2008 when Christopher Hill, then assistant secretary of state, met North Korean officials in Pyongyang. In the first bilateral dialogue under the Obama administration, the United States will try to persuade Pyongyang to halt its reactivated nuclear weapons program and return to nuclear disarmament talks.

North Korea has insisted on resolving the nuclear standoff through bilateral talks with the U.S., although its leader, Kim Jong-il, recently hinted at a possible return to the six-party talks depending on the outcome of Bosworth's trip to Pyongyang. For months, the U.S. has focused on punishing North Korea, leading an international campaign to enforce sanctions imposed on the socialist country for testing a long-range rocket in April and detonating a nuclear bomb in May.

Leading an inter-agency delegation, Bosworth flew from Osan Air Base south of Seoul on a U.S. military plane and arrived in the North Korean capital one hour later. The North's official Korean Central News Agency confirmed his arrival through a one-line dispatch from Pyongyang. The U.S. delegation also includes Sung Kim, special envoy to the dormant six-party nuclear talks, three other government officials, a note-taker and a translator, according to diplomatic sources here.

The North Korean Central Broadcasting Station abruptly cut away from a music program to announce Bosworth's arrival, though no details were given on who greeted the delegation. The North's media have yet to release any follow-up report.

A South Korean diplomatic source said shortly after Bosworth's arrival in the North that the U.S. envoy was welcomed at the airport by Jong Tae-yang, vice director general of the American bureau of the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

No media have been allowed to accompany the delegation, and foreign news agencies such as China's Xinhua and Russia's Itar-Tass, which have offices in the North, have had limited access to information on the visit. The information blanket leaves the outside world dependent on Pyongyang's state-run news outlets for coverage of Bosworth's activities in the socialist nation until his scheduled return to Seoul on Nov. 10. U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that he will extend his trip.

The veteran diplomat is expected to probe the North's willingness to rejoin the six-party nuclear talks and confirm its commitment to the Sept. 19, 2005 Joint Statement agreed upon at the Beijing-based forum. The 2005 deal was signed by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia to provide massive economic aid, normalize ties with the reclusive state and replace the armistice signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War with a peace treaty in return for the North's nuclear dismantlement.

North Korea has been boycotting the six-party process due to U.N. sanctions imposed after a barrage of missile tests and an ensuing nuclear detonation, the second of its kind since 2006, earlier this year. Pyongyang also complains that the multilateral forum has been used as a tool of suppression.

The prospects for Bosworth's success are less clear. The U.S. has stressed that Bosworth will not offer any new inducements for North Korea to lure it back to the multilateral negotiations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said on various occasions that Washington is prepared to provide a comprehensive package of incentives, including security guarantees, only if the North dismantles its nuclear program "verifiably and irreversibly."

Bosworth's dialogue partner remains unconfirmed. He is widely expected to sit down with First-Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju, who is known as Pyongyang's main diplomatic policymaker. Kang negotiated the 1994 Agreed Framework with the U.S. to freeze the North's nuclear facilities in return for a shipment of heavy oil and two light-water reactors.

Bosworth and Kang met in Pyongyang in 1996 for the implementation of the deal, which was scrapped in 2002 when then Assistant U.S. Secretary of State James Kelly visited the North and was told about its uranium enrichment ambitions. It is also unclear whether Bosworth will meet Kim Jong-il, the North's leader, who rarely receives foreign guests. Media have speculated Bosworth may be carrying a letter from Obama for Kim.

When he first toured Asia in March after being appointed as U.S. special representative for North Korea, Bosworth reportedly carried such a letter reaffirming the U.S. position on improving bilateral relations. Bosworth had wanted to visit Pyongyang, but the North did not invite him as it was apparently preoccupied with preparations for its long-range rocket launch.

Experts said Bosworth faces a daunting task. It will be a "difficult conversation," as North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear power as India and Pakistan are, Scott Snyder, director of the Center for US-North Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation, said.

"North Korean foreign ministry officials seem to have moved on from nuclear talks, although they make it clear their outrage at United Nations condemnation of their April multi-stage rocket launch as an affront to their sovereignty," he said in e-mailed comments after his trip to Pyongyang last month.

Meanwhile, Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper published in Japan, said it is North Korea's position that the hostile relationship between itself and the U.S. should be changed into a peaceful one through bilateral talks. The paper also hinted at the possibility of the communist country returning to the six-party nuclear dialogue if the talks in Pyongyang are successful, saying, "The North's efforts to realize the denucleraization of the Korean Peninsula are unchanged."

After Bosworth's arrival in the North Korean capital, the U.S. renewed its call on Dec. 8 for North Korea to return to the six-party talks, saying a peace treaty and any other issues should be discussed within the six-nation format.

"We will make clear to them that should they return to the six-party process, and should they reaffirm their commitments under the 2005 joint communique, then there is available to them a robust channel for bilateral dialogue, with which we can discuss a wide range of issues," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. He added that the U.S. is ready to help North Korea join the international community and improve its economy if it returns to the six-party talks.

In Washington, a U.S. expert predicted that Bosworth's trip will not produce a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff due to Pyongyang's insistence on forging a peace treaty through bilateral talks. Jack Pritchard, president of the Washington-based Korea Economic Institute, says the North has a different agenda, made clear on his trip to Pyongyang late last month.

Pritchard said he found that the North Koreans want continued bilateral talks with Washington to establish a peace treaty to replace the fragile armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. He cited talks with Ri Gun, director general of the North American affairs bureau of North Korea's foreign ministry, and other officials.

Pritchard, a U.S. negotiator with North Korea in the Clinton administration, has traveled to the North several times and has known Ri for 13 years. He said that a peace treaty is a prerequisite for the North to get access to international financial institutions, which can help the impoverished regime rebuild its languishing economy and end what the North sees as a hostile U.S. attitude.

The North Koreans want to revive the "positive direction" achieved at the end of the Clinton administration, when North Korea invited then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang and sent Marshal Jo Myong-rok to Washington to sign a rapprochement agreement, he said.

The six-party deals signed in 2005 and 2007 by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia call for the establishment of four working groups, including one to discuss the peace regime, along with other working groups on normalization of ties between North Korea and the U.S. and Japan, provision of economic aid to the North and dismantlement of the North's nuclear programs.

Some analysts say any failure to bring the North back to the six-party talks will result in the U.S. shifting responsibilities to China.

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