(Yonhap Interview) Bosworth: dialogue, best way to test Pyongyang's intention

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- Stephen Bosworth, a former U.S. point man on North Korea, said the only sure way to know the communist nation's seriousness for denuclearization is through dialogue.

"The only way we will be able to determine (the North's seriousness for denuclearization) is to get them back to the table ... and begin a process of give and take of negotiations," he said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.

Having served as the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy from 2009 to 2011, Bosworth works as chairman of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

He recently met with senior North Korean diplomats, including Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, in Berlin, Germany, and London, England, for the so-called Track II forums.

Bosworth, known for his deep knowledge of Korea from his service as Washington's ambassador to Seoul and direct talks with Pyongyang, said he understands why the Obama administration is cautious about resuming negotiations with the nuclear-armed country, given its track record of reneging on agreements.

For months, the North has called for talks with the U.S. without any conditions attached. Washington has effectively rejected the offer, saying it is interested only in "authentic and credible" negotiations aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear program.

U.S. officials have urged the North to prove its seriousness for dialogue through actions.

North Korea may seem to be sidelined for now as the "foreign policy plate" of the U.S. is rather full with other urgent issues such as Iran, Syria and the Middle East peace process as well as political strife at home, Bosworth said.

"But I believe that the U.S. will move toward reengagement with the North Koreans again, assuming the conditions are right in the not too distant future," he said. "I think they (U.S. officials) are all realistic and they understand that the situation with North Korea is not going to improve itself by itself."

Bosworth disapproved of the view that talking to North Korea is rewarding the belligerent country for bad behavior.

"I think it's something we do in our own interest and I think at present we would benefit from having dialogue -- efficient, formal dialogue with the North Koreans -- and I think we should probably move in that direction," he said.

He stressed the format for talks with North Korea can be flexible -- bilaterally, trilaterally or in a four-party grouping.

Ultimately, he added, the North Korean nuclear issue will be solved by the U.S. and the two Koreas.

What is more important is the content of the talks, he pointed out, saying all four of the major objectives of the Sept. 19 Joint Statement should be addressed -- denuclearization, a peace arrangement and normalization of diplomatic ties as well as economic and energy assistance.

Under the deal with the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, the North agreed to abandon its nuclear program in return for political and economic incentives. North Korea has stated that it remains committed to the agreement.

On Pyongyang's reported restarting of its key nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, Bosworth said North Korea might be looking for "insurance policies."

"I think they're demonstrating that if we, the ROK (South Korea) and the U.S., are not willing to talk to them, that they have the potential to continue on with their nuclear program," he said.

Asked about speculation that Washington's policy on Pyongyang has shifted from denuclearization to nonproliferation, he said the obvious answer is the U.S. is aiming at both.

"The best way to assure nonproliferation is through denuclearization," he said.

Some observers said the Obama administration appears to have lowered the bar to concentrate on curbing North Korea's transfer of nuclear weapons or fissile materials to other dangerous nations or organizations.

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