The Obama administration confirmed today it plans to send a senior envoy to North Korea in hopes direct talks will jumpstart stalled negotiations to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, U.S. officials tell ABC News.
Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth will travel to Pyongyang before the end of the year, the State Department announced.
North Korea extended the invitation for one-on-one talks last August, but the U.S. said it would only accept if Pyongyang returns to the Six Party Talks, multilateral negotiations from which it walked away late last year.
"We may use some bilateral discussions to help get that process going," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a visit to Russia in October.
Last month, a senior North Korean diplomat visited the United States to attend a conference during which he met with U.S. officials who were able to secure the regime's word that it was serious about returning to talks, State Department sources told ABC News.
President Obama came into office promising to engage America's adversaries, including North Korea, but shortly after his inauguration, North Korea attempted to launch what it said was a satellite, into space.
The United States deemed the launch a provocative act and the United Nations quickly condemned it. Relations between the U.S. and North Korea quickly soured and Pyongyang retaliated by testing a nuclear device for the second time in its history. The U.N. again responded by passing tougher sanctions on the reclusive totalitarian regime, caused relations to further deteriorate.
Complicating matters was the detention of two U.S. journalists who were picked up after straying into North Korean territory in March. They were later charged with espionage and convicted in June. U.S.-North Korean relations appeared to improve, however, after the Obama administration dispatched former President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang to retrieve them in August. It was during Clinton's visit, officials say, that North Korea first indicated it wanted to engage directly with the United States.
Bosworth will be the first U.S. official to visit Pyongyang in over a year, since the waning days of the Bush administration.
The United States and the other members of the six party talks -- China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan -- will have to work hard to make up for lost time. Talks have been stalled for over a year, and in some cases there are signs that efforts to remove North Korea's nuclear capability have slid backward.
In the summer of 2008, as a result of the negotiations, North Korea provided 18,000 pages of records documenting its nuclear program. It also agreed to begin disabling its nuclear facility at Yongbyon under the watch of international inspectors who put the facility under seal. The process culminated in the dramatic implosion of the reactor's cooling tower.
Since talks stalled last year, however, some reports citing intelligence sources have suggested that North forward again after North Korea tested its first nuclear device in late 2006.