SEOUL: A senior Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) diplomat stopped in Beijing yesterday en route to the United States for a rare visit aimed at laying the groundwork for direct negotiations with Washington, news reports said.
The DPRK's deputy nuclear envoy, Ri Gun, told reporters at a Beijing airport he would "soon" go to the US, news agency Yonhap reported from Seoul. Ri is scheduled to stay in Beijing for a few days for talks with Chinese officials, the report said. The Republic of Korea's (ROK) YTN television network carried a similar report.
China's Foreign Ministry said it had no information about Ri's visit.
Ri's trip to the US comes as Washington is considering the DPRK's offer of one-on-one nuclear negotiations.
Ri is scheduled to attend a security forum in San Diego, California early next week before flying to New York for a seminar. DPRK news reports have said he is expected to meet with the chief US nuclear negotiator, Sung Kim, to set up bilateral talks.
US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters on Monday that American officials would also attend the security forum, but no bilateral talks with the DPRK were scheduled to date.
But a US official said last week that Ri would likely discuss nuclear matters with a senior US diplomat while in the United States. Pyongyang has long sought direct negotiations with the US. The DPRK says it was compelled to develop atomic bombs to cope with what it calls "US nuclear threats."
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The US, which denies making such threats, has said it is willing to engage the DPRK in direct talks if it is assured such talks would lead to Pyongyang ending its boycott of six-nation disarmament talks involving China, Japan, the ROK, Russia and the US.
The DPRK pulled out of the six-party talks in April in protest at international criticism of a long-range rocket launch. It then conducted its second-ever nuclear test in May and a series of ballistic missile tests.
Pyongyang has reached out to Seoul and Washington in recent months. Analysts say it shows UN sanctions for the North's nuclear test have had an impact.
Sanctions still in play
In Beijing, Philip Goldberg, the US official in charge of enforcing UN sanctions against the North, said after talks with Chinese officials that sanctions are an "essential aspect" of efforts to get Pyongyang to disarmament talks, and that he sees no disagreement with China on that point.
The DPRK's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, expressed his hopes for "successful talks" with the US and "good future relations" with the UN in an interview aired on Monday night.
"I just wish Americans well and (that) everything goes well in the United States," Kim told the Fox News Channel. "And I want peace in the United States, so we are committing our own efforts for the good results and good future relations with the United Nations and for successful talks with the United States."[AP]