A senior North Korean ruling party official will travel to the United States next week for talks with South Korean lawmakers and U.S. legislative aides meant to help resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff.
The informal three-day academic forum in the U.S. state of Georgia, which begins Monday, comes as diplomats struggle to restart long-stalled international negotiations aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
The goal of the "Track II" talks in Georgia is to gather scholars, legislators, journalists and former senior officials from the Koreas and the United States and come up with policy recommendations and ideas on solving the standoff, according to Han S. Park, a University of Georgia professor who has ties with top officials in both Koreas and who organized the meeting. "Track I" talks are more formal, government-level meetings.
"The conundrum of Korean issues is complicated beyond the comprehension of typical observers," Park said in a copy of opening remarks emailed to The Associated Press. "There are no other regions in the world where more serious cases of mistrust and misunderstanding continue to plague peaceful coexistence."
No senior U.S. officials are expected to meet with the North Korean delegation led by Ri Jong Hyok, a member of the Supreme People's National Assembly and vice chairman of a ruling Workers' Party organization that deals with countries without diplomatic relations with the North.
But the talks will allow legislators from the rival Koreas to meet privately and share ideas and possible solutions _ a rare occurrence in the tense atmosphere that lingers on the Korean peninsula following violence last year that claimed 50 South Korean lives.
Intense diplomatic wrangling is now going on to try to restart nuclear negotiations that have been stalled since the last round of six-nation talks in late 2008. North Korea walked away from the aid-for-disarmament talks in early 2009, but has since pushed for a resumption.
Despite recent separate meetings among nuclear envoys from Washington and the Koreas and the possibility of more direct talks, officials in the United States and South Korea have so far reacted coolly to the North's overtures. The allies say the North must first show sincerity by abiding by past nuclear commitments.
Animosity has run high between the Koreas since two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea last year. The North has denied involvement in the March 2010 sinking of a warship that killed 46 South Korean sailors and argued that a November artillery barrage that killed four was provoked by South Korean firing drills.
The participants in next week's talks also include South Korean ruling party and opposition lawmakers, journalists and academics, senior Republican and Democratic aides on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former U.S. government officials.