KUALA LUMPUR • Preparations are under way for senior North Korean representatives to have talks in the US with former American officials, the first such meeting in more than five years and a sign that Pyongyang sees a potential opening with the Trump administration.
Arranging the talks has become a lot more complicated over the past eight days, with Pyongyang testing a ballistic missile and the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother in Malaysia, an act that many suspect was ordered by Mr Kim.
Analysts say they are highly doubtful that North Korea, which has insisted on being recognised as a nuclear state, would be willing to moderate its position on its weapons programme. But if the talks do take place, they could offer a glimmer of hope for an already-hostile relationship that has only deteriorated as the Kim government works aggressively to develop a nuclear- tipped missile capable of reaching the continental United States.
The planning for the talks is still in a preparatory stage, according to multiple people with knowledge of the arrangements. The State Department has not yet approved the North Koreans' visas for the talks, which would take place in New York within the next few weeks.
In recent years, there have been sporadic talks between the two parties in Kuala Lumpur, Geneva, Berlin and Mongolia's Ulaanbaatar. But such talks have not taken place in the US since July 2011, before Mr Kim succeeded his father as North Korea's leader.
The planned talks are being organised by Mr Donald Zagoria of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, who served as a consultant on Asia during the Carter administration and has organised previous rounds of such talks. He declined to comment on the plan.
The talks would be run independently of the State Department, where officials have privately questioned the utility of such discussions. But if the administration issued the visas, it would be an implicit seal of approval.
Ms Choe Son Hui, director of the US affairs department at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, is likely to lead the delegation from Pyongyang. She is known to American officials, having participated in official meetings including the six-party talks on denuclearisation. Ms Choe has a direct line to Mr Kim, according to Mr Thae Yong Ho, who was North Korea's deputy ambassador to London before he defected to South Korea last year.
Since the election of Mr Donald Trump as US President, there has been a change in North Korea's usually bombastic rhetoric. In announcing its latest missile launch, on Feb 12, the North's state media did not include its usual bluster about needing a deterrent against the US and its "hostile policies".
In his own statement after the launch, Mr Trump notably did not condemn Pyongyang. The new President has, in fact, said very little about how he plans to deal with North Korea. His administration is now conducting a review of North Korean policy.
While some expect Mr Trump to take a hard-line approach, encouraged by hawkish advisers, others say the President, who prides himself on making deals, could be open to dialogue with the North Korean regime.