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U.S. Optimistic that North Korea Still Committed

U.S. Optimistic that North Korea Still Committed to Talks

Officials hope for resumption of fourth round in week of September 12

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Despite the delay in resuming the Six-Party Talks, U.S. officials remain optimistic that North Korea has not retreated from its commitment to the negotiations for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Negotiators representing North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have been meeting to clarify positions for the resumption of the fourth round of negotiations. The talks recessed August 7 after 13 days of negotiations in Beijing. Original plans had aimed to resume the talks the week of August 29. (See related article.)

"We have seen some statements from North Korea saying they would be prepared to come back the week of September 12," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at an August 29 press briefing.

According to McCormack, the Chinese government is working bilaterally with North Korea, as well as the other countries involved in the Six-Party Talks, to "set a convenient date when all parties could come back."

Pyongyang has cited the August 19 appointment of Jay Lefkowitz as the U.S. special envoy on human rights in North Korea as a reason for North Korea’s decision to postpone the resumption of talks, according to media reports. (See related article.)

The special envoy's appointment was mandated by U.S. law and is not related to the Six-Party Talks, McCormack said. He added that the other parties remain focused on achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

According to McCormack, Lefkowitz will increase awareness of and promote efforts to improve the human-rights situation of the North Korean people as well as meet with international organizations and nongovernmental organizations to promote coordinated humanitarian activities in North Korea.

The spokesman also addressed North Korea's concern regarding a recent joint military exercise now under way between U.S. and South Korean forces, noting that the exercise was defensive and "poses no threat" to North Korea.

U.S. and South Korean forces began their annual two-week exercise, "Ulchi Focus Lens," August 22. The exercise is designed to evaluate and improve combined and joint coordination, procedures, plans and systems for conducting operations critical to the defense of the peninsula, according to U.S. Forces Korea. About 10,000 U.S. troops, 5,000 stationed in South Korea and 5,000 elsewhere, are expected to take part.

"We hope that all the other parties, including North Korea, come back to the table and resume the businesslike atmosphere that they demonstrated during the most recent session of talks," McCormack said.

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