SEOUL (Reuters) - A North Korean diplomat who was part of the so-called six-party talks aimed at ending the country’s nuclear program arrived on Monday in China, where she is expected to attend a forum in which the U.S. nuclear envoy will take part, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said.
If the diplomat does take part, it would be a rare gathering of experts from the six countries, coming weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping said he would like to see the six-party talks resume.
Isolated North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch the following month in defiance of U.N. resolutions, prompting the U.N. Security Council to impose new sanctions.
China, reclusive North Korea’s only major ally, has been angered by its nuclear and missile programs. Xi said in April China wanted to see a resumption of the six-party talks, which have been stalled since 2008.
The North Korean diplomat, Choe Son Hui, is deputy director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s U.S. affairs bureau, according to South Korea. She was a delegate to the stop-start six-party nuclear talks, hosted by China.
Choe was expected to attend the closed-door Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue in Beijing, hosted by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego, Kyodo said.
The annual dialogue is an informal multilateral conference attended by government officials and scholars from the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China, the five countries involved in the six-party talks along with North Korea.
“We hope that this conference can make a meaningful inquiry into the relevant cooperation issues in northeast Asia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.
The U.S. State Department said last week that Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, would attend the forum in Beijing. Kyodo said Japan may also send its top nuclear negotiator.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that Kim has no plans to meet with his North Korean counterparts during the session.
It was unclear if Choe would hold separate meetings with officials from other countries.
Choe attended a security conference in 2012 in China, but no representatives from North Korea have taken part since, according to the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
The visit comes after career diplomat Ri Su Yong, one of North Korea’s highest-profile officials, visited China and held a rare meeting with Xi.
Reporting by Ju-min Park, additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing and Warren Strobel in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Steve Orlofsky