North Korea on Wednesday claimed the United States had proposed to lift sanctions against the aspiring nuclear power in return for a freeze on the country's uranium enrichment work, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Jan. 11).
A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman told state-controlled media that in a bilateral meeting last July, Obama administration officials "proposed to take confidence-building steps such as suspension of sanctions as well as food aid" in exchange for a "temporary suspension" of the North's enrichment of uranium, a practice that can be used to produce weapon-usable material as well as atomic energy fuel.
Former U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth headed the delegation that met with North Korean diplomats in New York in late July. The State Department did not release specifics of the talks but at the time said they were "constructive" (see GSN, Aug. 2, 2011).
Washington has unilateral sanctions against North Korea and also participates in heightened U.N. Security Council measures that target Pyongyang's weapons operations.
While the South Korean press suggested late last year that the White House was close to agreeing to send a shipment of 240,000 metric tons of food to the impoverished country, the unexpected death of longtime North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il appeared for a time to have thrown that deal up into the air. The North's Wednesday statement, though, indicated that a two-way deal could still take place.
Washington had said it is essential for the North to halt its uranium enrichment work before long-stalled six-nation talks aimed at the Stalinist state's permanent denuclearization can be relaunched. The nuclear negotiations encompass China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.
Pyongyang withdrew from the multinational aid-for-denuclearization process n April 2009 after being assailed over what was widely seen as a test of its long-range ballistic missile technology. Though it has for some time voiced a desire to return to the six-way talks, North Korea has refused to accept any preconditions on negotiations and has insisted it has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Pyongyang disclosed its long-suspected uranium enrichment program in November 2010 (Agence France-Presse I/Channel News Asia, Jan. 12).
The Stalinist state this week alleged the Obama administration had altered the quantity and type of assistance it had previously proposed to supply, the Associated Press reported. The Foreign Ministry spokesman said the North was skeptical Washington would carry out the deal: "We will watch if the U.S. truly wants to build confidence."
"For those in the U.S. government seeking to re-engage with the North Koreans ... this may provide the clearest indicator yet that there is more continuity than change in the early post-Kim Jong Il period," Harvard University issue expert John Park said.
The North's new leader -- Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Kim Jong Un -- is largely expected by outsiders to continue his late father's militaristic and provocative policies (Klug/Pennington, Associated Press/Time, Jan. 12).
Separately, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Wednesday said Washington would host senior-level discussions in January with partners Tokyo and Seoul, AFP reported.
The department's point man for East Asian affairs, Kurt Campbell, is to head up the U.S. side of the talks, which will focus on regional matters, particularly what the three allies' approach to North Korea under its new leader, Nuland said (Agence France-Presse II/Channel News Asia, Jan. 12).
North Korea on Wednesday claimed the United States had proposed to lift sanctions against the aspiring nuclear power in return for a freeze on the country's uranium enrichment work, Agence France-Presse reported.