WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. envoy said Friday the only way to get nuclear North Korea to disarm is for nations to "close ranks" and demand it.
The U.S. envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, said Washington is not averse to talking with Pyongyang. But he said the bar for resumed engagement is higher after the North scuttled an aid-for-disarmament deal more than a year ago, then conducted long-range rocket and nuclear tests and issued threats.
His comments at the Wilson Center think tank underscore the difficulty of resolving the standoff on the divided Korean Peninsula and persuading the North to roll back a nuclear program it's determined to keep.
While tensions have eased in recent months as the North has toned down its provocative rhetoric, its initial efforts at patching up relations with rival South Korea are off to a rocky start. A much-anticipated meeting this week on resuming economic cooperation and reunions of divided families was felled at the last minute by a protocol dispute.
Davies criticized what he described as the North Korea's "gamesmanship" in its dealings with the South. He also said the North has moved rapidly away from showing interest in discussing its nuclear program. He said U.S. would not accept North Korea as a nuclear state nor reward it for "absence of bad behavior."
The key to a diplomatic solution, he said, is for the U.S. and North Korea's four neighbors involved in long-stalled nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang to send a unified message – that it must live up to previous commitments to denuclearize. He said there is a growing international consensus against the North's nuclear ambitions.
"We have every expectation that Beijing will use its special relationship with the D.P.R.K. to encourage Pyongyang to choose a different path," he said, referring to the North's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
At a California summit last weekend, President Barack Obama and China's President Xi Jinping expressed common cause on North Korea. That is sign of Beijing's annoyance at the provocations by Pyongyang and its intent to ramp up production of nuclear bomb fuel. But it remains to be seen whether the rival world powers can agree on further action.
China, the North's only major ally, has supported tougher U.N. sanctions and has taken steps to impede Pyongyang's ability to get foreign exchange. But China has not severed economic and trade ties that have mushroomed in recent years and allowed the North's elite unprecedented access to consumer goods.
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye, who is under pressure at home to improve ties with North Korea, will meet with Xi in Beijing late this month. Davies said he expects her to discuss with the Chinese leader how best to deal with the North Korean threat and how to improve inter-Korean relations.
Next week, Davies will meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Washington, the State Department said Friday.