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(LEAD) U.S. envoy 'optimistic' about prospects for engagement with N. Korea

All Headlines 15:13 September 13, 2010

(ATTN: RECASTS top 4 paras, last 4 paras with Bosworth's meeting with acting FM, background; CHANGES headline)
By Chang Jae-soon and Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- A senior U.S. envoy on North Korea expressed optimism Monday that the deadlock in negotiations with the communist nation could be broken in the near future as he held discussions in Seoul on how to resume the international nuclear talks.

"We want to talk to our allies and partners about how we can best formulate a position that would enable us to move forward," Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said at the start of a meeting with Seoul's acting Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo.

"The problems that we're trying to address are no less urgent than they were previously. And I am optimistic that at some point in the not too distant future, we can be back engaged," he said. The diplomat did not give details as to why he is optimistic about the situation.

Earlier in the day, Bosworth met with Seoul's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek and is scheduled to meet with his counterpart and Seoul's lead nuclear negotiator, Wi Sung-lac, later in the day.

Bosworth's trip came amid signs of a thaw in relations between Seoul and Pyongyang that have frayed badly after the North's deadly sinking of a South Korean warship. It also came as China pushes to jump-start the six-nation nuclear talks, whose prospects have been overshadowed by the ship sinking.

Bosworth is considered one of the advocates for dialogue with the North, and his trip to the region, which will also take him to Japan and China later this week, has spurred speculation that Washington may be trying to lay the groundwork for resuming the nuclear talks.

In recent months, North Korea has been signaling its willingness to return to the nuclear negotiations that have been stalled since the last session in late 2008. The talks bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

But South Korea and the U.S. have demanded that the North prove through action it is serious about abandoning its nuclear programs and show a responsible attitude over the ship sinking if the communist nation wants to reopen the nuclear talks.

That position reflects deep skepticism about North Korea, which has used its participation in the nuclear talks as a negotiating card. It has been a standard pattern of Pyongyang's behavior to raise tensions with provocations and then return to the dialogue table to get the concessions it wants before backtracking on agreements and quitting the talks again.

Officials in Seoul and Washington have said that the current impasse is of North Korea's making, and therefore, it is up to the communist nation to break the stalemate by ceasing belligerent behavior and engaging its partners in a more constructive manner.

Apparently mindful of the demand, North Korea has been stepping up conciliatory gestures. It has released a detained American citizen and a South Korean fishing boat, and proposed reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korea has responded to the overtures positively, offering to provide the North with flood aid. The North accepted the offer and specified what aid it wants from Seoul, such as rice, cement and construction equipment.

On Monday, South Korea announced via the Red Cross that it will send the North 5,000 tons of rice aid and 10,000 tons of cement, and proposed that working-level officials of the two sides hold a meeting Friday to discuss details for the proposed family reunions.


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