Senior U.S. diplomats met Wednesday in Washington with Hwang Jang Yop, a former senior official of the North Korean government, who defected to South Korea via China in 1997.
Mr. Hwang met behind closed doors with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs James Kelly, the Bush administration's point-man for nuclear talks with North Korea, as well as senior officials of the State Department's arms-control bureau.
Mr. Hwang, once a confidant of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, has since his defection advocated the ouster of the communist government in Pyongyang. At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the meetings with Mr. Hwang would give U.S. officials more insight about North Korea's secretive leadership.
"It's an opportunity to talk to someone with very first-hand experience of the North Korean regime and what's going on up there. It adds to our understanding of the situation on the peninsula," he said.
Mr. Boucher has stressed that Mr. Hwang's visit is private and would not affect six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program. The former North Korean official, on his first overseas trip since his defection, will also meet members of Congress and other administration officials.