North Korea’s Vice-Foreign Minister will visit the United States this week to discuss the next steps needed to resume international negotiations aimed at ridding the communist nation of its nuclear programs, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Sunday.
The announcement was a further sign that diplomats could be close to reviving the six-nation talks that broke off in 2008.
The Minister, Kim Kye Gwan, will travel to New York at Ms. Clinton’s invitation, which she made after a meeting on Saturday in Bali, Indonesia, with Mr. Kim and Japan’s Foreign Minister, Takeaki Matsumoto. The meeting came on the sidelines of a regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations where officials from 27 nations discussed security.
Mr. Kim will meet with a team of U.S. officials to explore his country’s commitment to return to the international talks and take concrete steps toward disarmament, Ms. Clinton said in a statement issued as she was leaving Bali.
The talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
“We are open to talks with North Korea, but we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table,” Ms. Clinton said in the statement. “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.”
Just two days earlier, nuclear negotiators from North and South Korea met for the first time since disarmament talks collapsed in 2008. The North walked out to protest international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch.
During Friday’s meeting, the Korean envoys agreed to work toward the resumption of the stalled talks, a significant breakthrough after more than a year of confrontation and escalating threats that have put the region on edge.
Diplomats in Washington and Asia have been eager for the two rivals to ease tensions, which spiked after two attacks that the South blames on the North last year that killed 50 South Koreans.
Since the last round of talks, North Korea has conducted a second nuclear test and revealed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it another way to make atomic bombs.
Recent North Korean threats against Seoul’s conservative government include a pledge to retaliate over South Korean soldiers’ use of pictures of the ruling North Korean family for target practice.
But North Korea also has indicated a willingness to return to the six-nation talks, which have held out the incentive of badly needed aid.
It has been South Korea that has shown reluctance, demanding first that the North apologise for last year’s attacks before agreeing to nuclear talks. The U.S. has stood by South Korea, saying Seoul must be satisfied with the North’s sincerity before Washington will act.
The North’s reasons for returning to the talks include a need to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough and outside aid ahead of the 2012 centennial of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.
South Korea’s government is seen as being eager not to be blamed for leaving the disarmament talks suspended. Analysts say the government of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak may want to report progress before it leaves office in early 2013.
South Korea and the U.S. say North Korea must demonstrate a commitment to abandoning its nuclear programs. Seoul has demanded a show of regret for the deadly sinking of one of its warships a year ago that the South blames on a North Korean torpedo, and for a North Korean artillery attack on a frontline island in November that killed four South Koreans.
Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University, predicted after Friday’s meeting of Korean officials that the six-nation talks could resume as early as September.
“It’s a positive sign,” he said.