WASHINGTON - Prospects are "grim" for a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis unless the United States engages in a sustained bilateral dialogue with Pyongyang, former U.S. negotiator Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard said on Monday.
In his first public comments since resigning from the Bush administration three weeks ago on the eve of six-party talks in Beijing, Pritchard challenged the administration's steadfast refusal to have one-on-one negotiations with North Korea.
"The prospects for success unless the format is slightly altered are very grim," he told an event organized by The Brookings Institution, where he is now a visiting fellow.
He called for the appointment of a full-time U.S. negotiator to holds talks with Pyongyang and to coordinate with key allies like South Korea and Japan on a "continuous basis."
Pritchard endorsed the six-party format that the administration demanded. But in addition, "what is required is the sustained involvement by the United States with the North Koreans... You cannot get to the point where you understand who your opponent is unless you have continuous contact," he said.
Pritchard was one of the U.S. government's most experienced North Korea negotiators before resigning last month at a crucial moment, days before the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan were to sit down with the North Koreans in Beijing.
Asked at the Brookings event to explain his resignation, Pritchard declined. But administration hard-liners have long viewed him as an obstruction and it was clear from his remarks on Monday that he disagreed with a fundamental hard-liner position, opposing direct U.S.-North Korean talks.
Speaking on the "Fox News Sunday" program a day earlier, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice defended President Bush's approach and said the United States would stick with it.
"The president had an important insight when he said that the United States should not take on this issue with North Korea bilaterally, but rather we needed to get involved all of the states who had both interest in a non-nuclear peninsula, and had instruments that they could use to bring that about," she said.
"It will take a long time ... But the president has put in place a fundamentally strong strategy that gives us the best chance to get the North Korean program dismantled," she added.
© 2003 Reuters Ltd