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N. Korean diplomat seeks to visit the U.S. this month

All Headlines 10:33 October 09, 2009

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Oct. 9 (Yonhap) -- A working-level North Korean diplomat is likely to visit the United States later this month, raising speculation that formal negotiations between the two sides are imminent, a diplomatic source here said Friday.

Ri Gun, director general of the North American affairs bureau of North Korea's Foreign Ministry, has been invited to the annual meeting of Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD) to be held in San Diego from Oct. 26-27, according to the source.

"He plans to attend the forum but the U.S. has not issued a visa for him yet," the source said, asking not to be named.

If Ri attends the event, it will provide a rare chance for North Korean and U.S. officials to have face-to-face meeting.

The NEACD, organized by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, brings together academics, diplomats, and military officials from the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, and the two Koreas, all of which are the members of the six-way talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, for discussions on regional security and ways to establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Ri's trip to the U.S., if made, will be closely monitored by international media, which expect North Korea and the U.S. to resume bilateral talks in the coming weeks.

The North asked Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, and Sung Kim, special envoy on the six-party talks, to visit Pyongyang for negotiations on its nuclear program.

The U.S. has expressed its willingness to talk bilaterally with the North but stressed that it would be only aimed to convince Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks. U.S. officials said they have yet to set the date, venue, and other details for the planned talks.

The source said Ri may meet Sung Kim if he travels to the U.S. to prepare for a higher-level meeting.

While visiting New York last November to join an academic seminar, Ri met with Frank Jannuzi, a key foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama.

North Korea sent Jung Tae-yang, vice director general of the Foreign Ministry's American bureau, to last year's session of the NEACD in Beijing, while the U.S. was represented by Alexander A. Arvizu, then deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.


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