Bush 'optimistic' about North Korea talks
Pyongyang agrees to six-nation talks on nuclear standoff
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Friday said his administration is "optimistic" about the chances of success of the six-nation multilateral talks aimed at pressuring North Korea to "totally dismantle" its "nuclear weapons program" and "allow complete transparency and verifiability."
"There are now five nations and North Korea sitting at a table," Bush said of the upcoming talks. "The discussions will be all aimed at convincing Kim Jong Il to change his attitude about nuclear weaponry."
Bush said he is "upbeat" that other countries are taking part. The talks would include North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia. On Friday, Bush praised China's role in helping resolve the crisis.
In April, China hosted the United States and North Korea in an unsuccessful round of three-party talks aimed at persuading the world's most isolated country to give up its nuclear weapons program. Since that round ended, China has been pressuring North Korea to agree to another round.
"In the past, it was the lone voice of the United State speaking clearly about this. Now we'll have other parties who've got a vested interest in peace on the peninsula," Bush said.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the scheduling of the six-party talks was still being worked out. Other administration officials said early September was the target.
North Korea accepted the six-way approach after months of saying it wanted direct talks with the United States. (Full story)
The regime of Kim Jong Il had demanded economic aid for its starving country, as well as a non-aggression pact with the United States, in exchange for shutting down its nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration has been reluctant to put any non-aggression guarantee in writing.
Now, Pyongyang said it would continue to seek bilateral talks with the United States even as it engages in the multilateral talks.
McClellan said North Korea would be free to talk directly to the United States while the other parties were at the table, but he said that at least for now, he did not envision any formal one-on-one discussions, even as side meetings, while the multilateral talks proceed.
Washington has been pushing for multilateral talks to include South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, to ensure the strength of any future agreement.
Pyongyang has claimed it is reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium, enough to build several nuclear bombs. U.S. officials have said they believe North Korea may have already built one or two nuclear weapons.
A report carried Friday by North Korea's state-run news agency KCNA, quoting a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said that during "contact" between North Korea and the United States in New York Thursday regarding the nuclear issue, "there came proposals for holding three-party and four-party and having five-party talks in the wake of the three-party talks for the settlement of the nuclear issue" between the United States and North Korea.
The report said, "Some time ago, the U.S. informed the DPRK (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) through a third party that the DPRK-U.S. bilateral talks may be held within the framework of multilateral talks.
"At the recent DPRK-U.S. talks the DPRK put forward a new proposal to have six-party talks without going through the three-party talks and to have the DPRK-U.S. bilateral talks there. The DPRK proposal is now under discussion."
In Tokyo Friday, John Bolton, the top U.S. arms negotiator, said it is encouraging that North Korea is willing to accept a new round of talks to resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons program, but he made it clear that any deal must be verifiable and does not change U.S. concerns about the country's plutonium-based and uranium enrichment project.
Bolton cautioned that "we have a question of what the legitimacy of promises made by North Korea would be, based on what their performance and violation of the 1994 agreed framework has shown.
"And it's one reason why, as I mentioned earlier, the question of verification and compliance has been central to the American position on the requirement that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons program," he said.
After North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program at Yongbyon in 1994, U.S. intelligence said it believed North Korea had enough plutonium to produce one or two nuclear weapons.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed that North Korea was willing to take part in six-party negotiations.
It said that information came during discussions -- requested by North Korea -- between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov and the North Korean ambassador to Moscow, Pak Ui Chun.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he hoped the talks will be conducted as soon as possible.
In Beijing, China called North Korea's position a "positive attitude" towards resumption of dialogue on the issue.
"We hope the second round of Beijing talks will start as early as possible, to promote the dialogue for a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue," said Kong Quan, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
"I don't think the format of the talks is the most important thing -- the key is to have dialogues of substance," he said. "We have always been open to the idea of expanding participants to the talks."
-- Senior White House Correspondent John King, Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty, State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, White House Correspondent Dana Bash and Producer Steve Jiang contributed to this report.