- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The new U.S. envoy on North Korea is no stranger to nuclear diplomacy and finding ways to deal with prickly adversaries such as Iran. His new assignment, however, could be his toughest yet: persuading a defiant regime that boasts about its nuclear weapons to give up its arsenal in return for aid.

Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, takes up his new job as the Obama administration deepens its engagement with Pyongyang — seeking to manage the risk of another military or nuclear provocation by the North. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced new talks with the North.

Mr. Davies is a career diplomat who served as a State Department deputy spokesman during the presidency of Bill Clinton. Before his current posting in Vienna, Austria, he held a senior position in the department’s Bureau for East Asia and the Pacific.

He will join the U.S. delegation at talks with North Korea on Monday and Tuesday in Geneva, the second direct U.S.-North Korean negotiations in less than three months. The delegation will be led by the current envoy, Stephen Bosworth, who has held the job since February 2009 but in a part-time capacity. Mr. Bosworth then will resign.

On Thursday, North Korea repeated calls for the immediate resumption of six-nation disarmament-for-aid talks, saying denuclearization is essential for world peace.

“To bring the process for the denuclearization of the peninsula back to its track, it is necessary to pay primary attention to building trust between (North Korea) and the United States … and resume the six-party talks without preconditions at an early date,” the official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary.

Leader Kim Jong-il said in a written interview published Wednesday by Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency that North Korea has a “nuclear deterrent force” to protect it from Washington.

“The nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula arose through the fault of the USA, which constantly threatens the sovereignty and security of our people,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying.

Mr. Kim, however, called for resumption of the nuclear talks, saying denuclearization is a testament to his late father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung.

On Thursday in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said: “We welcome the U.S. and (North Korea) engaging in dialogue. We also hope that the relevant parties can maintain the momentum of dialogue and contact, show flexibility and create conditions for the quick resumption of the six-party talks.”

Also, the U.S. this week began negotiations with the North on resuming the search for the remains of service members missing from the 1950-53 Korean War. Coming after nearly two years of minimal contact, it is a flurry of diplomacy, but the administration stresses that despite the personnel change, its policy has not changed.

It wants to keep open channels of contact with the North but will not resume multinational disarmament-for-aid negotiations unless Pyongyang takes concrete action to show it is serious about meeting its previous commitments on denuclearization.

Associates say Mr. Davies, as ambassador to the IAEA, has been effective in winning support for U.S.-backed measures to pressure Iran over its nuclear program, although Tehran, which insists its program is for peaceful uses, shows little sign of heeding international opinion.

“He’s a good appointment for the North Korea job, as it’s a heck of a challenge,” said Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director-general, who described Mr. Davies‘ key strength as his ability in multilateral diplomacy to bring parties together.

“He’s a good communicator and willing to talk to adversaries,” Mr. Heinonen said. “He’s easygoing and fairly low-key but can be tough when he needs to be.”

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