x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

N Korea invites Obama's envoys for nuclear talks

The US government is strongly considering the North Korean invitation to nuclear negotiations, according to local Korean media.

SEOUL // North Korea has invited top envoys of President Barack Obama to visit the communist nation in what would be the first nuclear negotiations between the two countries under his presidency. North Korea recently offered the invitation and the US government is strongly considering, Seoul's daily JoongAng Ilbo reported. There was no immediate response from US officials. The JoongAng report, citing an unidentified high-level diplomatic source in Washington, said the US diplomats might be able to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the visit.

Yonhap news agency also reported that the North has invited the two officials and that the US is reviewing the offer. Such a trip would mark the first nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea under the Obama administration. Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, has long sought direction negotiations with Washington about its nuclear programme and other issues, hoping to boost its international profile. The US has said it is willing to talk bilaterally to Pyongyang, but only within the framework of six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.

During the past year, North Korea had been stoking tensions with nuclear and missile tests while boycotting international nuclear talks. But in recent weeks, the North has become markedly more conciliatory toward the US and South Korea. The North freed two American journalists following a trip to Pyongyang by former US president Bill Clinton earlier this month. It has also released a South Korean worker it held for more than four months, agreed to lift restrictions on border crossings with the South, and pledged to resume suspended joint inter-Korean projects and reunions of families separated during the Korean War over five decades ago.

Separately, South Korea shot off its first space rocket. North Korea has warned it would be "watching closely" for the international response to Seoul's launch. The rival Koreas are eager to develop space programs, and had aimed to send satellites into space this year. * AP