The French president's special envoy on North Korea held talks Tuesday with the country's foreign minister during a visit to Pyongyang to explore the possibility of establishing diplomatic ties with the communist regime.
Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun greeted French envoy Jack Lang and his delegation with handshakes before they sat down for talks, according to footage aired by television broadcaster APTN in Pyongyang.
Lang, a former culture minister appointed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as his special envoy to North Korea, called Pak's welcome a "magnificent moment," APTN reported.
"Both sides exchanged views on the issue of the bilateral relations and a series of matters of mutual concern," the North's official Korean Central News Agency later said in a brief dispatch without elaborating.
Lang has said his mission during the five-day visit that began Monday is to explore the possibility of diplomatic ties between France and North Korea. France is one of only two European nations that does not have formal ties with North Korea.
Lang said earlier that he would also seek to discuss North Korea's nuclear program.
North Korea has been locked in a standoff with the international community over its atomic ambitions. Earlier this year, the country earned widespread censure for launching a long-range rocket, conducting an underground nuclear test and test-firing a series of missiles.
The regime walked away from six-nation disarmament talks in response to the criticism and the toughened sanctions meted out by the U.N. Security Council as punishment for the defiance.
In recent months, however, North Korea has reached out to Washington, requesting one-on-one talks with the wartime foe. The two countries, which fought on opposite sides of the 1950-53 Korean War, do not have diplomatic relations.
The U.S. has said it would hold talks _ but only if they lead to the resumption of the six-party disarmament negotiations.
In Washington, two U.S. officials said the Obama administration had decided to take up North Korea's offer and send President Barack Obama's special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, to Pyongyang for direct talks.
The officials discussed the matter late Monday in Washington on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been publicly announced.
The administration hopes Bosworth's meeting would be a step toward persuading the North Koreans to return to nuclear disarmament negotiations with the U.S., Russia, China, Japan and South Korea, they said.
The two Koreas remain in a state of war because their conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and the U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea to defend the ally against any aggression.
On Tuesday, navy ships from the two Koreas clashed along their disputed western sea border, the site of deadly naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.
A South Korean ship fired warning shots after a North Korean vessel crossed the maritime border, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The North Korean vessel then opened fire at the South Korean ship, which returned fire. The North Korean ship then turned back.
A JCS officer said the North Korean ship was seriously damaged while the South Korean ship was unscathed. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.