WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States will hold a fresh round of talks with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program next week and appoint a new full-time envoy as its seeks to deepen its engagement with the reclusive regime, officials said Wednesday.
The U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Glyn Davies, will replace the current envoy, Stephen Bosworth, according to U.S. officials and a Washington-based foreign diplomat.
Both developments indicate Washington wants to step up negotiations with Pyongyang, amid enduring worries over its nuclear weapons program. North Korea unveiled a uranium enrichment program last year in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The talks will be held in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday. They follow preliminary negotiations between the two sides in New York in late July that ended a long hiatus in direct engagement with North Korea.
The officials and diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter before the formal announcement, expected later Wednesday.
Bosworth, who has long experience in diplomacy with North Korea, has continued to serve as dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University since being appointed special representative for North Korea policy in February 2009. He is still expected to lead next week’s talks in Geneva before standing down, an official said.
Davies is a respected career diplomat. Prior to serving at the atomic energy agency, he held a senior position in the State Department’s bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs. During the presidency of Bill Clinton, he served as the State Department’s deputy spokesman. The United States and North Korea have also negotiated this week on resuming after six years the search for remains of thousands of American service members missing from the 1950-53 Korean War. The two sides started talks Tuesday in Bangkok, Thailand.
The U.S. and North Korea have no formal diplomatic ties, and relations have been rocky. During a state visit to Washington last week by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, President Barack Obama had strong words for the communist-governed North, saying that “if Pyongyang continues to ignore its international obligations it will invite even more pressure and isolation.”
The bilateral nuclear talks are an attempt to restart six-nation disarmament-for-aid negotiations that Pyongyang pulled out of in April 2009 after being censured for launching a long-range missile. The North subsequently conducted its second-ever nuclear test. And late last year it unveiled the uranium enrichment program that could give it another means of generating fissile material for nuclear bombs.
Tensions spiked on the Korean Peninsula after close U.S. ally South Korea suffered two military attacks last year that were blamed on the North, including the sinking of a submarine that killed 46 sailors.
But this year, the U.S. and South Korea have reopened the door to engagement with the North. They are still insisting, however, that the six-nation talks can’t resume unless the North shows it is ready to fulfill its commitments under a 2005 joint declaration to abandon all nuclear weapons programs and allow the return of international weapons inspectors.
The six-nation talks also include the North’s closest ally, China, as well as Japan and Russia.
It appears unlikely the North would agree to give up its nuclear weapons, despite its perilous economic situation and need for aid. The regime of Kim Jong Il will likely want to appear strong as it prepares for a leadership succession and the centennial next year of the birth of his father and the nation’s founder Kim Il Sung.
Engaging the North may serve to forestall another military provocation or a nuclear test–the kind of security crisis Obama would likely want to avoid as he enters an election year.