WASHINGTON -- The United States said it had agreed to hold bilateral talks with North Korea in hopes of coaxing Pyongyang back into broader negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear arms program.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said special envoy Stephen Bosworth would lead a small team to Pyongyang at time still to be determined, but likely before the end of the year.
Crowley said widely anticipated bilateral talks would be part of the larger negotiation process including South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, and would ask Pyongyang to reaffirm its past commitments to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic aid.
"We are not going to reward North Korea simply for returning to the six-party talks. We will be looking to see if they're prepared to take the kinds of affirmative steps that they've previously agreed to," he said.
"We have made clear to North Korea and we believe that North Korea understands what the purpose of the meeting is," Crowley said.
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 the broader talks involving six nations that it abandoned in December.
Washington has said that any decision to take part in direct talks should be seen as part of the larger multilateral negotiation framework.
U.S. President Barack Obama leaves on an Asia trip on November 12 during which North Korea's nuclear ambitions are expected to be discussed with leaders in Japan, China, and South Korea.