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US envoy in Pyongyang to push nuclear talks
US President Barack Obama’s first envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday to try to coax the state back to nuclear talks it walked out on a year ago, but without offering it any new incentives.
AFP - A US envoy arrived in North Korea Tuesday to try to coax it back to nuclear disarmament negotiations, in what will be the first high-level dialogue between the Obama administration and the communist state.
After a year of tensions marked by a North Korean nuclear test and missile launches, President Barack Obama is using his trademark direct diplomacy to attempt to bring it back to the six-nation negotiations it quit in April.
Stephen Bosworth and his six-member team flew from the US air force base at Osan in South Korea for their three-day mission. Their arrival was reported by the North's official news agency in a one-sentence dispatch.
A senior US official said in Washington that Bosworth will offer no new incentives but added that the North may be more ready to re-engage than its tough public statements suggest.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hopes Pyongyang can be persuaded to return to the six-party talks, to work towards denuclearisation and towards "a new set of relationships with us and our partners".
Bosworth, a veteran diplomat who is now the US special envoy on North Korea, is expected to hold talks with first vice foreign minister Kang Sok-Ju. But Seoul officials say he is unlikely to meet leader Kim Jong-Il.
He is scheduled to return Thursday to Seoul to brief officials before going on to Beijing on Friday, Tokyo on Saturday and Moscow on Sunday.
The tortuous disarmament talks began under Obama's predecessor George W. Bush in 2003 and group the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
In the six years since, there has been a pattern of apparent breakthroughs followed by breakdowns amid mutual accusations of bad faith particularly between the United States and North Korea.
In April, stung by international censure of its long-range rocket launch, the North declared the talks "dead".
It staged its second nuclear test the following month and followed up with a series of missile launches, attracting tougher UN sanctions.
In August, as former president Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang to secure the release of two US journalists, the North began striking a softer note.
It told visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in October it is ready to return to the six-nation talks, but only if direct discussions with the United States prove satisfactory.
The senior US official said Monday there are signs the North Koreans "may be more open to re-engage in the six-party talks than their initial statement said".
But the official warned that Washington will "continue very strong enforcement" of sanctions if the North still shuns the multilateral track.
Pyongyang has long sought direct talks with Washington in preference to a multilateral approach.
It says it needs its nuclear arsenal in the face of US "hostility" and maintains that a peace deal with Washington formally ending the 1950-53 war is key to resolving the nuclear standoff.
The United States is wary of efforts to drive a wedge between negotiating partners. It says this week's visit will focus only on reviving the six-party process and securing the North's recommitment to a 2005 deal.
Under that accord, the North agreed to give up its nuclear programmes in exchange for aid, diplomatic benefits and a permanent peace pact on the peninsula.
Bosworth himself and analysts have played down expectations of major breakthroughs.
Scott Snyder, director of the Centre for US-North Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation, forecast a "difficult conversation" because the North wants to be treated as a nuclear power after its second test.
Washington insists this will never happen.
China expressed hope the trip would restart the talks which it hosts.
"(China) supports US-North Korea contact and dialogue. We hope this dialogue can be conducive to their mutual understanding and resolve their mutual concerns," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.
"We also hope the dialogue can be conducive to the resumption of six-party talks."