March 3, 2010 / 7:35 AM / 10 years ago

North Korean nuclear envoy set to visit U.S., says South

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea’s top nuclear envoy plans to visit the United States in early March and could hold discussions to restart dormant nuclear disarmament talks, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said on Wednesday.

The visit by Kim Kye-gwan comes as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week she was encouraged by signs Pyongyang may soon end its year-long boycott of the disarmament-for-aid talks.

The North has come under pressure to return to six-country nuclear talks due to U.N. sanctions imposed after a May 2009 nuclear test. The sanctions have dealt a blow to its wobbly economy, and a botched currency move late last year has sparked inflation and rare civil unrest.

Kim was invited to attend an academic function but U.S. officials were reluctant to sit down for direct talks unless there was a clear indication such dialogue would quickly lead to a resumption of wider nuclear discussions, Yu told a news briefing.

“North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan is planning to visit on the invitation of the U.S. academic community,” Yu told the briefing.

There has been speculation in recent days in Japanese and South Korean media that reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may soon visit to China, his state’s biggest benefactor.

His few previous visits to China, the closest thing his impoverished state can claim as a major ally, have usually led to a decrease in tension in the economically powerful region.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Jeremy Laurence

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