WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will announce in the next several days whether it will start direct talks with North Korea amid signs Pyongyang may be ready to return to broader nuclear disarmament negotiations, a U.S. official said on Monday.
“We’ll have an announcement soon, next 1 to 2 days, regarding our decision whether to accept North Korea’s invitation for bilateral talks,” a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The announcement is expected as U.S. President Barack Obama heads for an official visit to Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea this week during which the North Korean nuclear impasse is expected to be discussed.
North Korea, which conducted its second nuclear test in May, last week called for direct talks with the United States, the strongest sign so far that the secretive state may be ready to return to broader talks involving six nations that it abandoned last December.
Washington has said that any decision to take part in direct talks should be seen as part of the larger multilateral negotiation framework.
Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said he would consider rejoining the talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, provided it had direct discussions with Washington, its long-time foe.
A North Korean official made a rare visit to the United States in late October, a possible prelude to a visit by U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang, which some analysts say is increasingly desperate for finance and aid.
Pyongyang has demanded direct talks with Washington as the best way to resolve hostility it argues has given it no option but to build a nuclear arsenal.
However, the United States has said there would be no negotiations outside the six-party forum.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Eric Beech