North Korea has invited a US special envoy to visit Pyongyang for talks on ending the standoff about its nuclear weapons programme, South Korean media reports said Tuesday.
JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korean policy, has accepted the invitation and would make the trip next month.
Yonhap news agency, which, like the newspaper, quoted diplomatic sources in Washington, said it was unclear if the US administration would accept the offer. South Korea's foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
JoongAng said Sung Kim, the US point man for six-nation nuclear talks, which also group South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, would accompany Bosworth.
Bosworth's team would probably visit South Korea, China and Japan in early September and then head to Pyongyang where he was likely to meet leader Kim Jong-Il, the paper quoted a source as saying.
The itinerary would preserve Washington's principle that it is willing to hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang but only within the six-nation framework.
JoongAng said Bosworth would offer a previously announced "comprehensive package of incentives" in return for denuclearisation.
It quoted another diplomatic source as saying the Obama administration would never abandon six-nation talks because it believes the North's recent peacemaking gestures are prompted by an international drive to enforce United Nations sanctions.
"Even if negotiations move forward, the UN sanctions will not be lifted easily," the source said.
The US, it said, would instead give Pyongyang's regime a de facto security assurance by promising it would not intervene in Kim's gradual transfer of power to one of his sons.
The North in March rejected a visit by Bosworth when he travelled to other Asian capitals to try to restart the stalled six-party talks.
Pyongyang in April announced it was quitting the forum in protest at the UN Security Council's censure of its long-range rocket launch earlier that month.
In May the North staged its second nuclear test, incurring tougher sanctions that were even supported by its close ally China.
Its first peacemaking gesture came in early August when it pardoned two American journalists after former US President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang.
Yonhap said the North conveyed its invitation to Bosworth around that time.
The North also freed a South Korean detainee and said it was willing to restart lucrative tourist trips and family reunions for South Koreans.
It lifted tough restrictions on border crossings, and last weekend sent senior envoys to Seoul for the first talks with conservative President Lee Myung-Bak since he took office.
Kim Jong-Il sent an undisclosed message to Lee through the envoys.
Bosworth visited South Korea last weekend as part of a US delegation to the funeral of former president Kim Dae-Jung, and held talks with Seoul officials.
Despite the peace overtures, a visiting US official tasked with enforcing sanctions said they would stay in place.
Philip Goldberg and Seoul officials Monday reiterated demands that the North commit to full denuclearisation.
The US State Department Monday welcomed the fresh inter-Korean dialogue but stood firm that it wants Pyongyang to negotiate to end its nuclear programme.