WASHINGTON - The United States believes North Korea may be ready to resume talks on its nuclear program but will not offer any new inducements to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.
U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth is due to arrive in Pyongyang on Tuesday, launching the first direct high-level move by the Obama administration to revive a stalled six-party deal aimed at ending the reclusive state's atomic ambitions.
The senior official said Bosworth hopes to assess whether North Korea is truly ready to resume the talks and reaffirm commitments made under a 2005 agreement in which it pledged to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
Given the fact that there was some indication that they may be prepared to do this, we thought it was important ... that we go and determine for ourselves what their real intentions are, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
This is not intended to be an extended bilateral engagement, the official said.
We've had a good preliminary set of discussions with the North Koreans. We've made clear that we have a very focused diplomatic objective here.
U.S. officials played down a Japanese media report that Bosworth could be carrying a new proposal from the United States, Japan and South Korea on a road map for ending North Korea's nuclear arms plans.
I have no information about any kind of road map, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.
NO NEW INCENTIVES
Analysts expect Bosworth's three-day visit to result in a pledge from impoverished North Korea to return to disarmament-for-aid talks but few expect concrete breakthroughs in the six-way talks that also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
The U.S. official said Bosworth will not present any new incentives to lure North Korea back to the negotiating table, which it abandoned more than a year ago.
He is definitely not carrying any additional inducements, the official said. We don't intend to reward North Korea simply for going back to doing something that it had previously committed to do.
But the official added that any return to negotiations would enable Pyongyang to once again seek economic assistance offered under the 2005 framework -- a strong incentive for a government facing both U.N. sanctions and a U.S. Treasury effort to target its finances.
The official said Washington had taken note of suggestions from North Korean officials at a number of venues, including an August visit to Pyongyang by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, that its position on nuclear talks may be changing.
We don't have expectations one way or the other as to whether they are going to say yes or no, but we do think it's important to get some clarity about this, he said.
The official said Bosworth's visit could be extended beyond three days if progress was being made and the United States was prepared to listen if North Korea wanted to discuss details on the way forward.
If they are ready to go, we are confident that the chair of the talks would be ready to reconvene those talks, the official said. If there are specific issues that the North wants to raise in terms of how to get them restarted, obviously we would listen to that.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)