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U.S. desires to avoid 'mistakes' in talks with N. Korea

WASHINGTON, (Yonhap) -- The United States is prepared to talk with North Korea, but a basic principle is to avoid the "mistakes" made in previous negotiations with the communist nation, an outgoing top State Department official said.

In an interview published Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told Foreign Policy, a U.S.-based magazine, that Washington has no surprising new policy on the recalcitrant regime.

"I think that the basic conviction that we've had is a preparedness to engage in negotiations, but a desire to avoid the mistakes of the past is something that's been very consistent," he said. Steinberg is known to have been in charge of the State Department's overall policy planning, including affairs on the Korean Peninsula. He is scheduled to leave the post next month.

He was apparently referring to North Korea's vicious cycle of gaining incentives through negotiations and then turning back to provocations.

The six-way talks on its nuclear program remain deadlocked after more than two years.

Steinberg emphasized the important of listening to various opinions, saying he learned from his public service that "you have to keep engaging with people outside of government."

"You shouldn't just kind of assume that once you've developed a policy that it's the right policy and the right policy forever," he added.

In that sense, he noted, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deserves credit.

"She regularly brings in people on almost every major policy issue to have a chance to hear different viewpoints and different perspectives," he said.

On the direction of the Obama administration's diplomacy after a shake-up of his foreign affairs and national security team, Steinberg said he expects no major shift.

"Ultimately, policy comes from the president and the secretary," he said, adding policymaking is not "inside-baseball."

"The leadership is what makes the difference. That's where policy comes from," he said.