Wednesday, December 16, 2009

President Obama has written a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as part of an intense effort to draw the reclusive nation back to nuclear disarmament talks, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

The letter was delivered to North Korean officials last week by Mr. Obama’s special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, during a visit to Pyongyang aimed at restarting the stalled negotiations, the official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomacy, would not describe the contents of the letter but said they fit with Mr. Bosworth’s general message.

“The North Koreans have a choice: continued and further isolation or benefits for returning to the six-party talks and dismantling their nuclear weapons program,” the official said.

The official was not aware whether Mr. Kim had responded to Mr. Obama’s missive. Mr. Bosworth’s visit did not include a meeting with the North Korean leader.

The existence of the letter has been closely held, with the administration insisting to its partners in disarmament talks with North Korea that it not be publicly discussed, according to The Washington Post, which first reported Tuesday night that the letter had been delivered.

Mr. Bosworth’s talks were the Obama administration’s first high-level contact with North Korea. He said after leaving the North on Thursday that the two sides reached a “common understanding” on the need to restart the nuclear negotiations, which involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, the United States and Russia. The six-party talks are aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Mr. Bosworth, who visited the capitals of all those countries last week and this, is scheduled to brief reporters about his trip on Wednesday at the State Department.

After returning to Washington from Moscow on Tuesday, Mr. Bosworth held closed-door talks with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss his visit to North Korea, his first to the country in his current position.

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also sent personal letters to Mr. Kim, although not as early in their terms as did Mr. Obama. Mr. Bush wrote Mr. Kim in December 2007, raising the possibility of normalized relations if the North Korean leader fully disclosed his nuclear programs by year’s end. Mr. Bush’s letter was seen as a turnabout for a president who had labeled the communist regime part of an “axis of evil,” along with Iran and prewar Iraq.

Mr. Clinton wrote to Mr. Kim in October 1994, promising to organize financing for a $4 billion nuclear plant to replace equipment suspected of making plutonium for nuclear weapons if the North kept its new agreement to give up the equipment. Then-Ambassador-at-Large Robert Gallucci told reporters the letter was addressed “To The Supreme Leader of the DPRK” — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Post said efforts early in Mr. Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

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