SEOUL, South Korea - President Obama's special envoy conferred with South Korean officials today on the eve of a rare trip to North Korea aimed at bringing the communist country back to international nuclear disarmament talks.
Stephen Bosworth's three-day visit to Pyongyang, starting tomorrow, represents the first bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea 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.
Bosworth told South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung Lac, that the United States had intentionally decided to start the North Korea trip from South Korea - a remark seen as intended to reassure South Korea.
"It's not an accident. We intended that," Bosworth told Wi at the start of their meeting.
Further details of their discussions were not immediately made available.
Bosworth is scheduled to fly to the North from a U.S. air base near Seoul.
While in Pyongyang, he is expected to meet with First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju - the country's top nuclear strategist and leader Kim'ss chief foreign policy brain, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
North Korea has pushed for direct talks with the United States since pulling 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 United States, 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.
North Korea has sought direct talks with the United States in an apparent effort to gain U.S. recognition as a nuclear power, experts say. The six-way talks were designed in part to involve Japan and South Korea, which have tense relations with the North.
Bosworth has shunned the media since arriving in Seoul yesterday. Upon arrival at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, he 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 home next week, according to the State Department.
As Bosworth arrived at the Foreign Ministry building in Seoul for talks with South Korean officials, about a dozen anti-U.S. activists rallied outside to urge the envoy to launch negotiations with the North on forging a peace treaty.
The United States fought alongside South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war.