U.S. diplomats and lawmakers met Wednesday in Washington with Hwang Jang Yop, the highest ranking North Korean official to defect to South Korea. Mr. Hwang is scheduled to make a return visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Mr. Hwang is a former senior official of the North Korean government who had been a confidant of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.
Since his defection to South Korea via China in 1997, he has advocated the ouster of Pyongyang's communist government.
Now in his early 80s, Mr. Hwang is on his first trip to Washington. Speaking to reporters as he prepared to meet with Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, he said, "It is my hope that through this visit that there would be a strengthened alliance among the U.S., Japan and South Korea."
Mr. Brownback, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations' East Asian Affairs subcommittee, said he hoped Mr. Hwang's visit would yield some insight into North Korea's reclusive leadership. "What I want to ask him about is: 'tell us about what is going on, or what has gone on, within North Korea, and some of the mindset of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, so we can try to get some insight about what is taking place there,'" he said.
Mr. Hwang was asked by a reporter whether North Korea had nuclear weapons. He said he was not sure, and that he did not want to speculate. He expressed appreciation for the interest the United States has shown on the issue of North Korea.
Earlier, Mr. Hwang met privately with Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs James Kelly and senior officials of the State Department's arms-control bureau.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Mr. Hwang's visit is private and would not affect six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program.
Mr. Hwang is to meet behind closed doors with members of the House International Relations Committee Thursday. He is expected to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week.