TOKYO – U.S. officials met with North Korean officials in New York last week, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Thursday, in an apparent effort to draw the volatile nation back into six-nation nuclear talks.
The meeting, reportedly at the North Korean representative office at the United Nations (search), came as concerns are mounting that the reclusive regime is moving toward extracting weapons-grade plutonium and could be preparing for a nuclear test.
"We can confirm that we had working-level contact with North Korean officials on Friday, May 13, in New York," an embassy official said. "This channel is used to convey messages about U.S. policy, not to negotiate."
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate.
Kyodo News agency, citing anonymous sources, reported that the North Korean side said in the meeting that it would have a response to the discussions in two weeks.
The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are trying to persuade North Korea to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons programs. The talks have been stalled since June, and North Korea has boycotted efforts to arrange a new session.
The last time U.S. officials had contact with North Korean officials appeared to be a January congressional delegation to Pyongyang led by Rep. Curt Weldon (search), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (search).
Weldon, R-Pa., said after that trip that North Korea appeared ready to negotiate "in a matter of weeks."
The Bush administration earlier this month offered a couple of carrots to the North — direct talks and recognition of its sovereignty — in a bid to derail its nuclear weapons program.
But Washington has also talked tough with Pyongyang, saying that a nuclear test would be punished, and that the U.S. had not ruled out bringing the case before the U.N. Security Council for consideration of sanctions.
The Boston Globe reported in its Thursday edition that Friday's meeting was attended by Joseph DiTrani, the U.S. special envoy to the six-nation nuclear talks, and Jim Foster, the head of the State Department's Office of Korean Affairs (search).
Japan's Asahi newspaper reported in its Thursday evening edition that senior U.S. State Department officials told North Korean officials in the meeting that Washington recognizes North Korea as a sovereign nation under the leadership of Kim Jong Il.
The U.S. officials also told the North Korean side that the administration of President Bush does not intend to attack North Korea, the Asahi said.
The report said the meeting took place at North Korea's representative office at the United Nations.