North Korea Nuclear Envoy To Visit U.S.

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SEOUL, South Korea — A top North Korean nuclear envoy wants to visit the United States for rare talks next month, news reports said Saturday, amid a push by diplomats to revive negotiations on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program. Officials in Washington said no such trip was planned.

North Korea is strongly pushing for Kim Kye Gwan's trip to the United States in March, but the U.S. has not authorized a visa for him, South Korea's Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.

Kim told his Chinese counterpart during this week's meetings in Beijing he hopes to hold a bilateral meeting with the U.S. in March, Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, also citing unnamed diplomats.

However, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Friday there were no plans for a visit by Kim, and no current U.S. discussions with North Korea about such a trip.

A bilateral 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.

U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe said after concluding a four-day trip to North Korea on Friday he was unaware of plans for Kim to travel to the United States.

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.

Pascoe, the highest-ranking U.N. diplomat to visit North Korea since 2004, said he met with North Korea's No. 2 leader and foreign minister and "argued strongly that the six-party talks should be resumed without preconditions or further delay."

However, the North Korean side did not seem prepared to immediately return to the international disarmament talks, he said.

"The attitude right now as I said is that certainly they were not happy with the sanctions and they were certainly not eager, not ruling out but not eager, to return to the six-party talks," said Pascoe.

Pascoe said he was reluctant to describe the North Korean position in any more detail because the U.N. is not directly involved with the negotiations.

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

Earlier, 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."

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 six-party talks. 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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Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, Alexa Olesen in Beijing and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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