WASHINGTON -- The United States and North Korea may meet in New York later this month for their first high-level talks in years, officials said yesterday.
The talks are expected to revolve around nuclear proliferation and other issues that have blocked improvement of relations, the officials said.
The United States is waiting for North Korea to come forward with a date and the rank of official it plans to send. The U.S. representative may be Arnold Kanter, undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Substantive diplomatic contacts with North Korea were barred by the United States until October 1988, when the two countries started low-level meetings in Beijing.
North Korea took another step out of isolation yesterday with a pledge to sign an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency by the end of January that would allow inspections of all its nuclear facilities. Last month, it joined South Korea in signing a non-aggression pact and a preliminary agreement to ban nuclear weapons on the peninsula.
The United States has cooperated in the restoration of North-South ties by speedily removing all nuclear warheads from South Korea and agreeing to cancel a U.S.-South Korea military exercise this year.
The United States has not made the IAEA accord a condition of holding a high-level meeting. But the North's alleged nuclear ambitions will be high on the agenda, officials said. At the meeting, the United States will warn that while it doesn't want to isolate North Korea, relations can't improve if Pyongyang pursues development of nuclear weapons, an official said.
The State Department welcomed North Korea's pledge but said that "North Korea must follow through on this promise by urgently bringing the agreement into force and accepting IAEA inspections of all its nuclear facilities." Only when this is done and the North has implemented its nuclear ban with the South "can the world begin to regain a measure of confidence in the prospect for settlement of nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula."
U.S. officials claim that North Korea has stalled for months on the IAEA accord and may take advantage of further opportunities to prevent complete nuclear inspections. Its pledge yesterday may have been prompted by the prospect of a tough stand by the IAEA's board of governors and a halt to further progress in ties with the South, one said.
Other subjects of long concern to the United States are weapons proliferation, North Korea's support for terrorism, its public invective against the United States and lack of cooperation in searching for and repatriating the remains of Americans unaccounted for since the Korean War.