By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 12:09 PM
BEIJING - The top two U.S. specialists on North Korea issues met Thursday with their Chinese counterparts for discussions on a new round of six-party talks, as the Obama administration intensifies its efforts to coordinate a relaunch of dialogue with Pyongyang.
Stephen Bosworth, the State Department's special representative for North Korea policy, and Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador for six-party talks, met with senior Chinese officials for what a U.S. spokesman later called "useful consultations."
Officials did not say whether the American diplomats sought information from China about a meeting last month between Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo and North Korea's reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il.
"Serious negotiations must be at the heart of any strategy for dealing with North Korea," Bosworth said at the start of his week-long trip, which began in Seoul, continued in Beijing and will wrap up in Tokyo.
In China, Bosworth and Kim met with Zhang Zhijun, China's vice foreign minister, and Wu Dawei, its six-party talks representative,
Though all countries involved in the six-party talks - China, Japan, the United States, Russia and both Koreas - have recently expressed an appetite for dialogue, the aid-for-denuclearization process remains a fraught subject, with disagreements about preconditions.
The United States is seeking signs that North Korea is sincere about disarmament. South Korea wants a commitment that the North will cease its provocations. The North, meanwhile, said Wednesday that it is willing to meet "anyone, anytime and anywhere" - an unconditional offer that Seoul swiftly rejected as insincere.
China, North Korea's chief ally, has also advocated talks without preconditions. But Beijing has come under increased pressure from U.S. officials in the past month to influence Pyongyang to change its behavior.
In March 2010, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46, an international investigation has found. On Nov. 23, it shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, killing four and wounding 18.
The conciliatory posture that has followed those actions fits a long-standing pattern of brinkmanship by the North, analysts say.
How best to handle North Korea is likely to be a foremost topic of discussion later this month when Chinese President Hu Jintao meets with President Obama in Washington.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi for detailed discussions that included a focus on North Korea.
"No one wants to see additional tensions," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "We all want to move in a different direction."
He added: "North Korea has to meet its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions. We are prepared to respond to that. We are prepared to have dialogue that is based on a conviction that North Korea is willing to be constructive and to follow through."