- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Bush administration, for the first time since December, has directly contacted North Korean officials and urged them to resume six-party talks aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

?There were working-level contacts between the United States and North Korean officials last Friday, May 13, in New York City,? deputy White House press secretary Trent Duffy told reporters aboard Air Force One.

?This channel was used to reiterate the message, directly, that the North Koreans need to return to the six-party talks without conditions, so we can pursue a policy of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,? he added.

The meeting was held two days after Pyongyang announced it had extracted 8,000 spent fuel rods from its main nuclear reactor and might use plutonium from the rods to build another nuclear weapon. Observers say North Korea already has several nuclear bombs.

The State Department dispatched Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, and Jim Foster, director of the department’s Office on Korean Affairs, to North Korea’s U.N. mission in New York. They met face to face with U.N. Ambassador Pak Gil Yon of North Korea and his deputy, Han Song Ryol.

Although President Bush has been calling publicly for a resumption of six-party talks for months, it was not clear whether his message was being conveyed adequately to North Korea.

?Every now and then, when we think it’s useful, we sit down with them directly and tell them the story directly of what our policy is,? said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

The U.S. has been under growing pressure from its allies to open some form of communication directly with North Korea. The Bush administration, which has avoided bilateral discussions in favor of six-party talks, emphasized that last week’s meeting did not represent a reversal of that stance.

?It is not in any way a negotiation,? Mr. Boucher said.

The State Department officials reiterated that Pyongyang must resume talks not just with the United States, but also China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. The administration wants North Korea’s neighbors vested in all negotiations because Pyongyang violated an agreement it reached with the Clinton administration in 1994 to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.

Still, the U.S. remains willing to hold side meetings with North Korea in the larger context of six-party talks. Such side meetings were held in Beijing in June, the last time six-party talks took place.

?All North Korea has to do is commit to resuming the six-party process and we could have as many bilaterals as they want within that process,? Mr. DeTrani said Wednesday at a conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

?Commit to coming back to the six-party process,? he said. ?Bilaterals across the board would be available.?

Last week, he told North Korean officials that their country is a sovereign state and that Mr. Bush has no plans to invade.

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