N. Korea says talks 'narrowed' differences with U.S.

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 11, 2009; 8:52 AM

SEOUL -- North Korea said meetings this week with President Obama's envoy had "narrowed" differences with the United States and led to a "common understanding" of the need to restart international nuclear talks.

The North's positive assessment of envoy Stephen W. Bosworth's three-day visit to Pyongyang did not commit to a date for returning to Beijing-based disarmament talks that it abandoned earlier this year.

But the Friday statement echoed Bosworth's own description -- almost word for word -- of what had been accomplished in the first direct high-level meeting between the Obama administration and the government of leader Kim Jong Il.

The meetings with the United States "deepened the mutual understanding, narrowed their differences and found not a few common points," the North Korean Foreign Ministry said. "Both sides agreed to continue to cooperate with each other in the future to narrow down the remaining differences."

Bosworth said here on Thursday after leaving Pyongyang that his conversations had established a "common understanding" of the need for negotiations.

"It remains to be seen when and how [North Korea] will return," Bosworth said, adding that "this is something that will require further consultations among all six" of the countries involved in Beijing-based nuclear talks. Those countries are the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.

Bosworth traveled to Pyongyang after Kim sent signals through China and other diplomatic channels that his government might be willing to return to the talks it abandoned last spring, after asserting that they had become a vehicle for regime change.

A condition of North Korea's return to negotiations, as determined by Chinese officials in meetings this fall in Pyongyang, was direct high-level contact with the Obama administration.

Yet even as Bosworth headed for North Korea this week, Obama administration officials were cautioning that they had received no guarantee that Pyongyang would return to the often-stalled six-party talks.

Expectations, however, had been raised in Seoul and Tokyo that the U.S. special envoy would not press ahead with a highly publicized visit without some assurances of a substantial result.

Bosworth, though, had little of substance to announce during a 15-minute news conference in Seoul. He said he did not meet -- and did not ask to meet -- with the North Korean leader.

Kim, 67, is thought to have suffered a stroke in August 2008 but has since recovered and is believed by U.S. officials to be firmly back in control.

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