October 16, 2009 / 2:17 AM / 10 years ago

U.S. to permit visit by North Korean official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will allow a visit by a senior North Korean official this month, a source familiar with the matter said on Friday, in a move analysts said could be a first step toward formal bilateral talks.

U.S. special envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth (front), and Sung Kim, top U.S. nuclear negotiator, leave after their meeting with South Korean nuclear envoy to the North, Wi Sung-lac, at the foreign ministry in Seoul September 5, 2009. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the State Department had decided to grant a visa to Ri Gun, North Korea’s No. 2 official at talks on its nuclear programs, to meet with North Korea scholars and experts in New York.

The source said there was a high probability that U.S. diplomat Sung Kim would meet informally with Ri Gun during his visit, which includes taking part in so-called “track two” talks in New York on October 30.

North Korea, which six months ago said it was quitting multilateral talks on ending its nuclear programs, on October 6 signaled that it could return to the six-way disarmament talks but wanted to talk to the United States first.

Destitute North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May, triggering U.N. sanctions that are designed to cut into arms trade, which provides a vital source of cash for its depleted coffers.

The United States, which has said it has not decided on bilateral talks, would like to persuade North Korea to return to wider talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and itself and to recommit to abandoning its nuclear programs.

U.S. analysts said that by allowing Ri Gun to visit, the Obama administration might be signaling a desire to explore whether direct talks between the United States and North Korea might lead to a resumption of wider denuclearization talks.

“By allowing this visit to take place, Washington is telling Pyongyang that they are interested in keeping the dynamic going, the trend toward dialogue that we have seen in recent weeks,” said Evans Revere, president of the nonprofit Korea Society in New York.

“(It suggests) the administration is interested in keeping the dialogue ball in play,” he added.

The Korea Society and another nonprofit group, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, have invited Ri Gun to the United States to take part in an October 30 meeting in New York with scholars, former government officials and analysts.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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