- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

North Korea told the United States it would return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program but no date was set, U.S. officials said yesterday. China said negotiations are likely to resume in the next few weeks.

The Bush administration played down the message it received from Pyongyang, saying it lacked specificity.

The message was delivered in New York on Monday, but the administration kept silent about it until yesterday, when officials offered differing and confusing accounts.

“The North Koreans said they would return to the six-party process but did not give us a time certain when they would return,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

He said the North Koreans did not impose any conditions for the resumption of talks.

Earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the North Koreans gave no indication they were ready to go back to the negotiating table. He said later that they had “expressed a commitment to the talks.”

Still earlier, some officials said privately that the North Koreans — Ambassador to the United Nations Pak Gil-yon and his deputy, Han Song-ryol — had told U.S. diplomats Joseph DeTrani and James Foster nothing new.

Those officials said a general commitment does not mean much until the North Koreans provide a date or a time frame for the next round of talks, the last of which took place nearly a year ago.

Mr. McCormack also played down the significance of Monday’s message, saying only that it was good to exchange information.

But Wang Guangya, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York yesterday that the talks were likely to resume in the next few weeks in Beijing. He said the six-party process is “the best way” to resolve the nuclear standoff and expressed hope that progress will be made.

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said yesterday the Chinese “continue to believe they will persuade North Korea to come back to the talks.”

“They have constantly urged patience,” Mr. Hill told the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia and Pacific subcommittee. But Beijing has been “clearly reluctant to use a lever such as economic sanctions” against the North, he said.

The Monday meeting in New York was requested by North Korea last week, U.S. officials said. It followed a May 13 session with the same participants, during which the Americans urged the North Koreans to return to the talks.

Washington’s contacts with the North’s mission to the United Nations, known as the New York channel, is the only direct link between the two governments.

The Japanese government said the meeting indicated progress, but it was not sure whether it would lead to a resumption of talks.

“Since talks and contacts are being held in such a manner, this is a step forward,” said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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