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What's behind North Korea's offer for unconditional talks?

US envoy Stephen Bosworth ended a tour to northeast Asian capitals Friday without any definitive response to North Korea's offer for talks without preconditions. Japan and South Korea rejected the proposal.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / January 7, 2011

US envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth speaks to the press following his talks with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, Friday, Jan. 7.

Junji Kurokawa/AP

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Tokyo

US envoy Stephen Bosworth struck an enigmatic note here Friday on the chances for more talks with North Korea after both South Korea and Japan flatly rebuffed Pyongyang’s bid to return to the table without preconditions.

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Mr. Bosworth ended a trip to major northeast Asia capitals with this carefully phrased remark: “We are talking about and moving forward in our attempt to address the questions of the Korean Peninsula.”

That comment, following talks at his final stop in Tokyo Friday, raised more questions than it answered. It comes after what some analysts see as a North Korean attempt at reconciliation and what others view as a well-timed North Korean effort to mislead diplomats and politicians about its intentions.

While Mr. Bosworth was in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara was in Washington meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He said that North Korea had to take “concrete actions” before any resumption of six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program.

In Seoul, South Korea's vice unification minister Um Jong-sik found it “difficult” to take seriously North Korea’s call for “unconditional and early talks.”

South Korean officials have characterized the North’s proposal as fitting the pattern of a regime that over the years has pursued a fight-then-talk strategy.

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