BANGKOK | The Obama administration is considering offering North Korea new incentives if it behaves better and returns to nuclear talks, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
A day after she compared North Korea to a spoiled child throwing a tantrum, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters during a visit to Bangkok that “there is obviously a list of incentives and offers that could be made if the North Koreans evidence any willingness to take a different path than the one they are currently pursuing.”
She added, however, “As of this moment in time, we haven’t seen that evidence.”
U.S. officials declined to specify what North Korea would get if it stopped its belligerent behavior. They portrayed the potential new offer in part as an effort to get China and Russia to implement fully new U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea after it staged a second nuclear test in May and fired off more ballistic missiles.
Mrs. Clinton referred to comments made earlier this week by Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, about a “comprehensive package” for North Korea he discussed with officials in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.
Senior U.S. officials traveling with the secretary to a meeting of Asian foreign ministers in Thailand said the package should not be viewed as rewarding the North for bad behavior.
“This is not a negotiating package - it’s a strategic approach,” said one official who declined to speak on the record because he was discussing internal administration deliberations.
“One of the ways that we are better able to get other countries on board with a tougher line and a tougher set of policies on North Korea is by making very clear that, under the appropriate circumstances, we would be prepared to work with those countries on an outreach to North Korea if they took the appropriate steps,” he said.
By “other countries,” the official meant Japan, South Korea, China and Russia. Along with the U.S. and North Korea, they are participants in long-stalled talks on the North’s nuclear programs.
Both Japan and South Korea have said they intend to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, which imposed financial and trade sanctions on the North and called on countries to interdict ships if they are believed to be carrying suspicious North Korean cargo.
China and Russia, however, have been reluctant to take measures that might further anger their North Korean ally. An earlier resolution adopted in 2006 after the North’s first nuclear test was also never fully implemented by China and Russia.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, called the potential offer an “interesting and hopeful development.”
“Rather than waiting in vain for North Korea to return to the negotiating table while it improves its nuclear and missile capabilities, Obama should authorize official and non-official direct contacts with senior North Korean officials to clarify the costs of further defiance and highlight the benefits of that any new package of incentives would deliver,” he said.
The senior U.S. official said Japan, which feels most vulnerable to North Korea’s weapons programs and remains angry about North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens several decades ago, has “anxieties about engagement with North Korea,” but that Mr. Campbell has had “a series of discussions” with six-party members about “how comfortable they are about putting [incentives] on the table,” and “all of our partners we’ve interacted with until today are very comfortable with our approach.”
During a visit to India on Monday, Mrs. Clinton compared North Korea to a “spoiled child” and “unruly teenager” in constant need of attention.
“We were not going to give the North Koreas the satisfaction they were looking for, which is to try to elevate them again to center stage,” she told ABC News.