The Obama administration held its first senior-level meetings with North Korean officials Dec. 8-10 in an attempt to restart multilateral denuclearization talks Pyongyang abandoned in April.
The U.S. interagency delegation was led by Stephen Bosworth, the special representative for North Korea policy, who described the talks during a Dec. 16 press briefing as "quite positive." He added, however, that it was not yet clear when and how the multilateral talks would be restarted. Bosworth met with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju and nuclear envoy Kim Gye Gwan.
Following a UN Security Council rebuke of North Korea's April 5 rocket launch, Pyongyang renounced the six-party talks in which it had participated intermittently with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States since 2003. (See ACT, May 2009.) North Korea declared at that time that it would "never participate in such talks" again but appeared to back away from that position last summer. (See ACT, October 2009.)
According to Bosworth, North Korea indicated that it would like to resume the six-party talks and "agreed on the essential nature" of a September 2005 joint statement by the six countries. In the statement, North Korea committed to abandoning its nuclear weapons programs in return for a normalization of relations and economic aid. Bosworth noted that Beijing, as the chair of the multilateral talks, would lead further consultations to restart them. "I would expect that this process will move forward," he said. No further talks between Washington and Pyongyang are currently scheduled.
While in Pyongyang, Bosworth delivered a letter from President Barack Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong II. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Dec. 16 that the letter sought to convince Kim to "come back to the table and ultimately live up to" his country's disarmament agreements.
Bosworth's visit came just days before law enforcement authorities in Thailand seized about 35 tons of smuggled arms aboard a North Korean plane. Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told reporters Dec. 14 the cargo was bound for "a destination in the Middle East."
Reportedly acting on a tip from the United States, Thai authorities inspected the plane Dec. 12 after it made an unscheduled landing in Bangkok. The authorities said the weapons included rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air rockets, and other heavy weapons. Panitan said that Thailand detained the crew of five, who were charged …