TOKYO, Jan. 14 -- The North Korean government this week indicated its willingness to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks if the United States ceased acting in a "belligerent manner," according to the leader of a delegation of U.S. congressmen that just returned from a rare series of high-level meetings in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
The delegation, headed by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), told reporters in Seoul on Friday that North Korean officials had signaled their readiness to return to negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea's professed nuclear weapons program.
In Seoul, the South Korean foreign minister, Ban Ki Moon, right, meets with congressmen Curt Weldon, (R-Pa.), second from left, Silvestre Reyes, (D-Tex.), left, and Solomon P. Ortiz, (D-Tex.).
(Seokyong Lee -- Bloomberg News)
North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia have held three rounds of talks since August 2003, but North Korea has refused since September to return to the table.
Most analysts have said North Korea was waiting for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, hoping that President Bush -- who has taken a hard-line policy toward the North -- would lose.
It remained unclear whether North Korea's statements to the congressional delegation represented a real shift in position. North Korea has repeatedly made vague promises to return to the negotiating table if the United States dropped what the North has called its "hostile policy" toward the communist government headed by Kim Jong Il.
At the State Department, spokesman Richard A. Boucher said the Bush administration was hoping for a resumption of the talks.
"North Korea has not yet been in touch with the other parties to the talks to inform them of any decision or any intentions," Boucher said. "We've made very clear that we are ready to go back to six-party talks. Any discussions in the talks, we maintain, must address the full range of North Korea's nuclear programs, including its uranium enrichment program."
The U.S. delegation -- which went to Pyongyang this week with the blessing of the White House -- voiced optimism that North Korea was prepared to resume discussions.
"I am convinced, as are my colleagues, that if in fact we move along the process we are moving along today, the six-party talks can and will resume in a matter of weeks as opposed to months or years," Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters in Seoul, the South Korean capital.
"Our focus was on the process to get the six-party talks moving again, to reassure the leaders of the DPRK that we wish them no ill will, to reinforce the fact of what our president has said, that we do not wish to have a regime change, that we will not preemptively attack the North, but we do need to resolve the nuclear issue," Weldon said at the news conference, using the initials for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
There was no mention of a specific date to restart the talks, which have thus far been held in Beijing. In commenting on the delegation's visit this week, North Korea's official KCNA news service said the government "would opt for finding a final solution to all the outstanding issues between the two countries, to say nothing of the resumption of the six-party talks and the nuclear issue, if what U.S. congressmen said would be formulated as a policy of the second Bush administration."
North Korea "would not stand against the U.S. but respect and treat it as a friend unless the latter slanders the former's system and interferes in its internal affairs," the news agency said.
Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.