WASHINGTON – The Bush administration says it has specific proposals to bring to nuclear arms control talks with North Korea (search) now that Pyongyang (search) appears ready to join a six-nation conclave.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher (search) said Thursday the United States will present ideas about how North Korea can end its nuclear programs "in a verifiable and irreversible manner."
North Korea, after insisting for months on one-on-one talks with Washington, appears to have agreed to an American proposal for a broader discussion involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
President Bush was informed of North Korea's acceptance of the U.S. proposal during a conversation Wednesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao (search).
The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing said it had not seen the report and would not immediately comment. Beijing, the isolated North's last major ally, has repeatedly said it doesn't want nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, and wants the issue resolved peacefully through negotiations.
The time and place for the discussions has not been set yet.
For the Bush administration, it was rare good news. For months, North Korea had seemed intent on provoking a crisis by moving ahead with two nuclear weapons programs after earlier vowing to seek a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
"We're very encouraged by indications that North Korea is accepting our proposals for multilateral talks," Boucher said.
Verification of any arms control agreement is difficult, no matter how cooperative the country promising to disarm may be -- and North Korea is not known for its transparency.
An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has no idea about the location of the facility North Korea is using to develop highly enriched uranium.
Former Defense Secretary William Perry described as unrealistic the administration's claim that it could interdict any North Korean effort to export a nuclear bomb or nuclear technology.
"A nuclear bomb can be made with a sphere of plutonium the size of a soccer ball," Perry wrote recently in The Washington Post. "It is wishful thinking to believe we could prevent a package that size from being smuggled out of North Korea."
The current phase of the U.S.-North Korean nuclear standoff began last October with North Korea's acknowledgment to U.S. officials that it has a uranium-based nuclear weapons program. It also has been working on a plutonium-based program in recent months.
North Korea had tried for months to lure the United States into a one-on-one discussion leading to a nonaggression pact.
The United States held out for a broadly based international conclave on grounds that North Korea's development of nuclear weapons has implications for a number of countries, not just the United States.
Washington was especially insistent on the inclusion of Japan and South Korea.
Pyongyang may have insisted on including Russia to restore balance to the talks, said Park June-young, a North Korea expert at Ewha Woman's University in Seoul.
"Japan is on the U.S. side and we can't say South Korea is on North Korea's side, so in five-way talks it would be three versus two even if China stands on North Korea's side," he said. "By including Russia, North Korea believes it can make it three versus three."