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Top North Korea nuclear envoy to visit US - report

North Korea's chief nuclear envoy will make a rare visit to the United States next month, a news report said on Friday, indicating long-stalled talks on ending Pyongyang's atomic ambitions could be back on track.

world Updated: Feb 12, 2010 09:26 IST

North Korea's chief nuclear envoy will make a rare visit to the United States next month, a news report said on Friday, indicating long-stalled talks on ending Pyongyang's atomic ambitions could be back on track.

A flurry of diplomatic activity this week has seen Pyongyang host high-profile envoys from its main ally China and the United Nations, and leader Kim Jong-il reiterated he wanted a peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

Now Kim Kye-gwan, the face of the North's nuclear diplomacy, was expected to visit the United States in March, South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted diplomatic sources in Beijing as saying.

His last trip to the United States was about three years ago and led a few months later to North Korea taking its first steps to disable the Soviet-era Yongbyon nuclear plant that produces bomb-grade plutonium.

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North Korea later backed down from its disarmament pledges, expelled international inspectors, and produced a fresh batch of plutonium at Yongbyon that experts said could give it enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb.

North Korea has previously put conditions on its return to the talks including ending UN sanctions and also having discussions with the United States on a peace treaty to replace the ceasefire that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

"If Kim is going to Washington, he will be taking something in hand and we will likely see significant results related to the six-way talks," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

Resuming the talks could ease concerns among market players about investing in the heavily armed peninsula, but would not likely cause any major movements on stocks or foreign exchange trading, analysts have said.

UN sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear test last year have dealt a blow to its fragile economy, which also endured a botched currency reform late last year that sparked inflation and rare civil unrest.

The top UN political envoy, Lynn Pascoe, who is scheduled to leave Pyongyang on Friday, said ahead of his visit he will discuss several issues including sanctions.