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U.S., North Korea to meet next week

From Jamie Crawford, CNN
updated 10:39 PM EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The decision to have talks stems in part from North-South meetings
  • U.S. and North Korean officials are to meet next week in Geneva
  • Glyn Davies will replace Stephen Bosworth as special envoy
  • The last full round of six-party talks were in 2008

Washington (CNN) -- An interagency team of U.S. officials, led by Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, will meet with a North Korean delegation next week in Geneva, Switzerland, the State Department said Thursday, as the Americans prepare to restart talks with the reclusive nation.

Bosworth, the special envoy for North Korea, plans to meet with First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, who will lead the North Korean delegation.

The meeting will take place October 24 and 25 in Geneva, although the exact site has not been named.

The decision by the United States to launch talks with North Korea stems in part from recent meetings between North Korea and South Korea, a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

At a meeting between the United States and North Korea in July, the official said, Washington laid out a list of things it was looking for from Pyongyang to demonstrate its seriousness about abandoning its nuclear ambitions. The official said one of the things the United States had been seeking was North Korean engagement with South Korea. A recent "constructive meeting" between the two countries helped get the parties to this point.

The meeting in Geneva will give the United States an opportunity to see how the North Koreans absorbed what the Americans laid out to them in July and see what their intentions are. The official said there is a concern that if the United States or South Korea do not engage with North Korea, it could lead to miscalculation or provocations on the part of North Korea.

Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the meetings "exploratory" in nature.

"We are not seeking to have talks for talks' sake," Toner said. It's "safe to say we are looking for concrete actions" by North Korea before resuming the six-party talks, which have been dormant since 2008, Toner said.

The six-party talks are a vehicle launched under former President George W. Bush to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear program. The involve both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia. At various points, progress seemed to be made, only to have North Korea either pull out over disagreements on verifiable declarations of their nuclear program, or to engage in belligerent behavior that scuttled the talks.

The United States has been in contact on a regular basis with all sides parties involved in the six-party talks, Toner said.

Washington has called repeatedly for Pyongyang to undertake a series of prerequisite steps, such as halting missile and nuclear tests, and further development of nuclear weapons, to show it are interested in coming back to talks.

At a news conference this month with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, U.S. President Barack Obama said, "If Pyongyang continues to ignore its international obligations, it will invite even more pressure and isolation. If the North abandons its quest for nuclear weapons and moves towards denuclearization, it will enjoy greater security and opportunity for its people."

After taking office in 2009, Obama was met with a set of provocations. North Korea test-fired missiles and conducted a new round of nuclear tests. A small opening toward the resumption of talks was reversed after North Korea was accused of sinking a South Korean naval vessel in the Yellow Sea, followed by their artillery shelling of a South Korean island in November 2010 in which two civilians were killed.

Bosworth will step down from his position following the meetings and will be succeeded by Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

Davies will be at the talks in Geneva.

The State Department did not give a specific reason for Bosworth's decision to step down following the meetings in Geneva, but Toner said he believed it was a "personal" decision. In addition to his role at the State Department, Bosworth has also maintained his position on the faculty at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University outside Boston.

Clifford Hart, a foreign policy adviser to the U.S. Navy and an expert on China and Taiwan, will become the new chief U.S. negotiator to the six-party talks and will report to Davies in his new role. Hart replaces Sung Kim, who was confirmed last week as the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

CNN Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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