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Report: NKorea's top nuclear envoy to visit US

Other News Materials 12 February 2010 07:23 (UTC +04:00)
A top North Korean nuclear envoy is set to visit the United States next month for rare bilateral talks, a news report said Friday as diplomats pushed to revive negotiations on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program, AP reported.
Report: NKorea's top nuclear envoy to visit US

A top North Korean nuclear envoy is set to visit the United States next month for rare bilateral talks, a news report said Friday as diplomats pushed to revive negotiations on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program, AP reported.

Plans call for North Korea's Kim Kye Gwan to travel to Washington in March, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported from Beijing, citing an unidentified source.

A meeting between the North Korean envoy and U.S. officials would be a strong sign that the push to get the disarmament talks back on track was gaining traction. It would also confirm a warming in relations between the U.S. and North Korea, wartime rivals that do not have diplomatic relations.

North Korea, believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs, walked away from disarmament-for-aid negotiations last year during a standoff over its nuclear and missile programs.

However, after tightened sanctions and financial isolation, the impoverished nation has reached out to Washington, Seoul and Beijing in recent months.

North Korea wants sanctions eased and a peace treaty with the U.S. formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War if it returns to the talks.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Fred Lash said late Thursday that he had not seen the Yonhap report. Earlier, spokesman P.J. Crowley said U.S. officials haven't ruled out future meetings with the North Koreans, but "we believe firmly that the next meeting that U.S. representatives and others should have with North Korea is through a formal six-party meeting."

The disarmament talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and host China.

Officials from the two countries last met one on one in December, when President Barack Obama's special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, visited Pyongyang. The bilateral talks were the first since Obama took office.

In Beijing, the North Korean nuclear negotiator met for three days this week with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, and they were expected to meet again Friday, reports said.

Kim, the negotiator, told reporters Thursday that the two had "a deep exchange of views ... on issues of interest, including China-North Korea relations, signing of a peace treaty and resumption of the six-party talks." He declined to give further details.

Meanwhile, the U.N. political chief, B. Lynn Pascoe, was in Pyongyang this week.

Pascoe, the highest-ranking U.N. diplomat to visit North Korea since 2004, met Thursday with North Korea's No. 2 official. During the meeting, Pascoe conveyed a message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, broadcaster APTN reported from Pyongyang.

Pascoe also presented Kim with a leather-bound copy of the U.N. charter, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. He said Pascoe was to leave Pyongyang on Friday.

The rush of diplomacy raised hopes of a breakthrough on restarting the negotiations after Kim Jong Il told a high-level envoy from Beijing on Monday that his government is committed to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

Japan's U.N. Ambassador Yukio Takasu said the international community wanted to send a "unified message" about the importance of achieving denuclearization through the six-party talks.

"There is no other way than to resolve the nuclear issue through diplomatic means," he said in New York.

Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have all urged Pyongyang to return to the disarmament talks and show progress on denuclearization before any discussions on a peace treaty or sanctions.

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