President Barack Obama's special envoy arrived in South Korea on Sunday en route to North Korea for a rare meeting aimed at bringing the communist country back to international nuclear disarmament talks.
Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, will travel to Pyongyang on Tuesday in what would be the first bilateral talks between the U.S. and the North since Obama took office in January. The two countries last met one-on-one on the sidelines of now-stalled six-nation nuclear talks in Beijing in December 2008.
North Korea has pushed for direct talks with the U.S. since it pulled out of the nuclear negotiations in protest of international criticism of a rocket launch in April. The North claims it was compelled to develop atomic bombs to cope with what it calls "U.S. nuclear threats."
The U.S., which denies making any threats, has said it is willing to engage the North in direct discussions but has stressed they must lead to an end of Pyongyang's boycott of the disarmament talks that also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
"We're very clear that we're only talking with them to seek the resumption of six-party talks. We're going into that with a very clear message," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Thursday.
During his three-day trip to North Korea, Bosworth is expected to meet First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju _ the country's top nuclear strategist, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Before flying to Pyongyang from a U.S. air base near Seoul, the U.S. envoy is to meet senior officials including chief South Korean nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-lac to discuss his North Korean trip, according to Seoul's Foreign Ministry.
Upon arrival at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, Bosworth took a car from the tarmac without speaking to reporters.
After his trip to North Korea, the U.S. envoy is to return to Seoul then travel on to Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow before flying back to the U.S. next week, according to the State Department.