US, North Korea may use New York conference to discuss nuclear crisis
Officials from the United States and North Korea may discuss the prospect of jumpstarting nuclear talks while attending an academic conference in New York this week, diplomats said.
The US administration has given rare visa approval to Ri Gun, a senior North Korean diplomat, to attend the two-day conference organized by Professor Donald Zagoria of Hunter College beginning Thursday, State Department officials said.
The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations but Pyongyang has a mission at the New York-based UN headquarters.
Ri Gun is Pyongyang's second man in the six-party talks, which were last held in June last year. North Korea refused to attend the fourth round of the talks in September after rejecting a US-led aid-for-disarmament offer.
Pyongyang has also questioned American sincerity in wanting to end the nuclear crisis.
"There are no meetings scheduled with Mr Ri outside the context of the conference. I would expect, since they will be at the conference, that they will be in the same room together. But there are no planned meetings or exchanges," McCormack said.
But some Asian diplomats said they expected the American and North Korean officials to discuss the nuclear issue.
"These are senior, ground level officials and when they are in the same room, you don't expect them not to talk, especially when they know each other," one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"I think they have many things to talk about, especially when things are looking favourable now," he said.
There has been renewed optimism that the six party talks would be reconvened in July.
South Korea's pointman on North Korea, who held talks with Pyongyang's supreme leader on his nuclear ambitions earlier this month, will arrive in Washington on Thursday to brief US officials on the meeting.
Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young, also chairman of the presidential National Security Council, is expected to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Chung held a rare meeting in Pyongyang on June 17 with Kim Jong Il, who said North Korea would return to the talks as early as July if the United States "respects" his nation as a dialogue partner.
But North Korean officials, at inter-Korean cabinet-level talks held in Seoul last week, refused to set a firm date for a new round of six-way talks, involving the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, Japan and China.
The nuclear standoff flared in October 2002 when Washington accused Pyongyang of operating a nuclear weapons programme based on enriched uranium in violation of a 1994 agreement.
On February 10 this year, North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons.