North Korea's top nuclear negotiator and other high-ranking officials from the communist state have arrived in Japan for a rare visit. They will be attending an academic conference next week that will discuss Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development and other Northeast Asian security issues.
Japanese officials are stressing that the Tokyo gathering is not a formal session for negotiating efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
Among the North Koreans arriving in Japan Friday are Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, the country's chief negotiator on nuclear issues, and Pyongyang's number two at the United Nations, Han Song Ryol.
The nine officials from Pyongyang are in the country for the North East Asia Cooperation Dialogue, sponsored by the University of California at San Diego.
Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says the four-day conference, which begins Sunday, will discuss a range of what he calls "very important issues," including nuclear proliferation.
"So I hope very much that this is going to create a very good catalyst for the six-party talks to be resumed and North Korean officials, who will come back to their country again convinced of the vital importance to resume the talks," he said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator to the North Korean nuclear talks will attend the conference. However, U.S. officials say there are no plans for a one-on-one meeting with his North Korean counterpart.
China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are also parties to the six-way talks and will have officials from the previous nuclear negotiations at the conference.
Formal talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs, hosted by China, have been stalemated since last November. Pyongyang insists it will only resume formal negotiations if Washington lifts financial sanctions imposed on North Korean entities suspected of money laundering and counterfeiting.