WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has decided, after months of deliberation, to accept an offer by North Korea to send a special envoy to Pyongyang for direct talks on nuclear issues, two administration officials said Monday.
President Obama will send envoy Stephen Bosworth, although no date for his trip has been set, the officials said. The officials discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been publicly announced.
It would be the first direct one-on-one U.S. talks with North Korea since Obama took office in January.
The administration hopes Bosworth's meeting would be a step toward persuading the North Koreans to return to nuclear disarmament negotiations with the U.S. and four partner countries — Russia, China, Japan and South Korea. North Korea quit those negotiations in April and vowed never to return.
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As a way to pressure North Korea to return to the negotiating table, Washington has been seeking international support for strict enforcement of a U.N. sanctions resolution adopted in June to punish the North for its May 25 nuclear test.
North Korea escalated nuclear tensions this year. It conducted a long-range rocket launch, quit the six-nation talks on ending its nuclear program, restarted its nuclear facilities, carried out its second-ever nuclear test and test-fired a series of ballistic missiles. But in August it said it welcomed direct talks with Washington, while holding out on broader negotiations.
The last six-nation talks took place in Beijing in December 2008.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling this week to Singapore, where she will meet Wednesday with Asia-Pacific foreign ministers for talks that will center on North Korea. Obama also will be in Asia this week; his visit will include stops in Japan, China and South Korea, where the prospects for progress on North Korea is certain to be a major topic.
Jeffrey Bader, a senior Asia adviser to Obama, said last week that the United States was prepared to send Bosworth to North Korea for direct talks, but only if the North understands that such contact must set the stage for scrapping its nuclear program.
Some have speculated that the North Koreans' motivation for inviting Bosworth to Pyongyang is to demand U.S. recognition of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state — a move the U.S. resists.