WASHINGTON The United States is ready to talk to North Korea and resume humanitarian aid to the isolated state under the right conditions, top U.S. officials for Asia said on Tuesday.
Stephen Bosworth, the State Department's special envoy for North Korea, told a Senate hearing that Washington was working to end a two-year stalemate in six-nation talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons programs.
"We do not regard regime change as the outcome of our policy, but we do regard a change in regime behavior as necessary to any fundamental improvement in the overall relationship," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Committee Chairman John Kerry called for "fruitful talks between the U.S. and North Korea" on resuming six-party talks.
"We're very open to getting back to the table, provided ... that's done under the right set of circumstances," said Bosworth, who has visited North Korea just once in two years.
Washington needs to see "evidence that the agreements that we have reached with them in the past are agreements that they are now prepared to carry out," he said.
During the tortuous six-party nuclear negotiations that began in 2003, North Korea and dialogue partners China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States reached agreements that would dismantle the North's nuclear weapons in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic recognition.
Those pacts fell apart before they were implemented and North Korea tested nuclear devices derived from plutonium twice, in 2006 and 2009. Last year, Pyongyang confirmed long-held U.S. suspicions it had been working on secret uranium enrichment that would provide a second method to make bombs.
FOOD AS HUMANITARIAN ISSUE
U.S. food aid to North Korea, which has been approaching foreign governments for food donations, should be considered "based on demonstrated need and our ability to verify that food will reach the intended recipients," Kerry said.
Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told the hearing the North Korean requests were "still at the study phase" and nothing had been decided.
But he said it was incorrect to assume that withholding aid would force North Korea to divert funds from its nuclear and missile programs to buy food for its people.
"They are committed to these programs ... and they have demonstrated historically that they are prepared to allow enormous suffering," said Campbell, referring to a 1990s famine that took place as Pyongyang advanced its weapons programs.
"The choice really here is whether these people are allowed to starve -- and that's frankly a humanitarian issue," he said.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)