US mulls direct talks with NKorea

WASHINGTON: The US State Department said it was mulling a rare face-to-face meeting with a North Korean envoy visiting the United States, raising hopes of progress in stalled nuclear talks.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Friday no decision had been taken on who would meet Ri Gun, the senior North Korean nuclear negotiator who reportedly arrived in New York for a multi-day visit on Friday.

But Kelly said a meeting between Ri and the US special envoy for North Korean disarmament talks, Sung Kim, had not been ruled out.

"I wouldn't exclude that. I don't have anything to announce about that, but I certainly wouldn't exclude it," he said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Ri arrived in New York on Friday.

He was also expected to visit San Diego on Monday for closed-door informal talks on the nuclear standoff, the event's director Susan Shirktold AFP on Friday.

Kelly indicated it had not yet been decided which US official would attend that meeting.

Ri's rare visit has fueled speculation that North Korea is preparing to return to six-party talks about its nuclear weapons program.

On Monday, Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said the United States was ready to meet one-on-one with North Korea but only if it leads "rapidly" to full-fledged six-nation denuclearization talks.

North Korea in April declared the six-nation forum and its agreements to be null and void after the United Nations condemned its long-range rocket launch. The communist state later also tested an atom bomb.

North Korea has long sought to meet exclusively with the United States and sought recognition as a nuclear weapons state.

The six-nation talks involved China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.