The State Department said Wednesday that new U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will visit Japan, China and South Korea early next month on his first foreign trip since taking office last week. But officials denied a report he might also stop in North Korea.
The Negroponte Asia mission, scheduled for the first week of March, will come less than a month after a breakthrough agreement in the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program.
But officials here are vigorously denying a report by the Financial Times newspaper that he might add Pyongyang to his itinerary, saying high-level engagement must await North Korean compliance with the nuclear deal.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the February 13th agreement provides for a ministerial-level meeting of all six parties, after an initial 60 day period in which Pyongyang is to among other things shut down its main nuclear reactor complex in exchange for emergency fuel-oil shipments.
Casey said the Bush administration's focus is on implementation of the aid-for-disarmament deal, and that U.S. engagement with North Korea before the 60-day period ends would be illogical:
"Certainly it would be odd, I think, that there would be some separate diplomatic engagement outside that process that we would be thinking of engaging in at that time. The most important thing for us, of course, is to see that the agreements reached in Beijing are in fact implemented and implemented fully."
Casey said Negroponte plans to focus on Asia in his new post, and that the upcoming trip to Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul will deal with regional and bilateral issues in addition to the nuclear accord.
A career diplomat, Negroponte stepped down from the cabinet-level post of director of U.S. intelligence to take the number-two job at the State Department, which had been vacant since the departure of Robert Zoellick last year.