Washington's special representative to North Korea has arrived in the South Korean capital ahead of talks in Pyongyang. The envoy will try to bring the Kim Jong Il government back to six-nation talks on giving up its nuclear weapons, which North Korea abandoned.
Ambassador Stephen Bosworth met Monday with South Korea's six-party talks negotiator Wi Sung-lac ahead of his trip to North Korea on Tuesday.
In Pyongyang, Bosworth will try to persuade North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks with South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
North Korea said earlier this year it would never to return to those negotiations. However, the country's leader, Kim Jong Il, reportedly told China's premier in October that depending on how talks with Bosworth go, he might reconsider.
There is concern in Seoul that Pyongyang's insistence on holding bilateral talks with Washington could drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea. But some foreign policy analysts say there is little to fear.
Lho Kyungsoo lectures in international politics at Seoul National University.
"I don't think there is any worry Ambassador Bosworth's visit to North Korea will somehow detract from our efforts," Lho said. "Whoever makes steps forward with North Korea is not as important as making a difference with North Korea. And I don't think our interests are any different from the American ones in terms of North Korea."
After walking away from the six-party talks, North Korea tested its second nuclear device. The United Nations Security Council later imposed sanctions on Pyongyang, which have impeded its efforts to sell conventional weapons abroad, a major source of income for the cash-strapped nation. Since then, North Korea has cooled its hostile rhetoric and offered to engage with the United States and South Korea.
Some foreign policy experts in South Korea think the sanctions have forced Pyongyang to consider coming back to the negotiating table.
Choi Kang is director of American studies at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security in South Korea.
"North Korea changed their behavior and words from mid-July, that's the point U.N. Security Council resolution 1874, to be implemented," Choi said. "Since then they actually launched a charm offensive to the outside, a peace offensive, I think they felt some pain coming from the implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolution."
North Korea has indicated that it will not return to the six-party talks until the U.S. signs a peace agreement to officially end the Korean War. Fighting ended in 1953 with only a cease-fire agreement.
Washington says that Bosworth will not engage in peace talks during this visit.