North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has ordered his officials to arrange a meeting with a high-ranking US official, possibly with President George W. Bush, a news report said yesterday.
Kim told his Foreign Ministry to make arrangements for a visit to the North by a prominent US figure, personally mentioning Bush, former President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as possible visitors, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing an anonymous source familiar with North Korean affairs.
Officials at South Korea's Unification Ministry and Foreign Ministry couldn't confirm the report.
The latest round of international talks on North Korea's nuclear program in Beijing produced a landmark accord Monday where Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid, security assurances and improved ties with the US.
After the talks, chief US negotiator Christopher Hill said he was willing to visit North Korea to keep channels of communication open, but many factors would determine whether such a visit could be made.
North Korea has long tried to engage the US in bilateral talks, believing such meetings would boost its international status and help it win bigger concessions at the nuclear talks also involving China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
In October 2000, then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang and met the North Korean leader.
Pyongyang said that US envoy Christopher Hill was welcome to visit and that no conditions would be attached.
"If Christopher Hill is willing to visit my country with an intention of resolving the nuclear issue, then we would always welcome him," North Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Su-hon told a group of reporters, including China's Xinhua news agency.
"There will be no condition if he is willing to come to my country with a view to resolving the nuclear issue and other issues of his concern," he said at the North Korean mission to the UN in New York.
On Tuesday the Stalinist nation warned it would not dismantle its nuclear weapons until the US delivered light-water reactors to allow it to generate power, casting doubt on its commitments.
Washington says the reactors would be discussed only after North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.
Despite the rhetoric, Choe said his government had noticed that the US attitude towards North Korea had changed recently, highlighted by the joint statement in which the US pledged to recognize North Korea's sovereignty.
"This is different from what the United States has been saying [in past years]," he said.