US officials secretly visited North Korea last year: report

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - US officials made two secret visits to North Korea last year in an effort to improve relations after North Korea leader Kim Jong Un assumed power, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday.

Citing unnamed former US officials familiar with the trips, the newspaper said the visits in April and August were aimed at encouraging the new leadership in Pyongyang to moderate its foreign policy.

The April trip was led by Mr Joseph DeTrani, who at the time headed the National Counter-proliferation Centre in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the report said.

It was unclear who led the August trip, the paper noted.

The Times quoted the officials as saying that veteran Central Intelligence Agency analyst Sydney Seiler, who speaks fluent Korean and is in charge of Korea policy at the National Security Council, went on both trips.

Mr DeTrani left the government last year and now heads the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, an industry group, the newspaper noted.

"There are certain things I just won't talk about, and this is one subject I really feel it's not appropriate for me to comment on," the report quoted him as saying in a telephone interview.

Mr DeTrani said he and other US experts initially saw signs that Mr Kim might behave less rigidly than his father, including putting moderate figures in key government positions.

Without confirming the 2012 trips, he added that it "makes eminent sense" for the United States to conduct talks with North Korean officials after Kim Jong Il's death, the paper said.

US officials have visited North Korea in the past. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright paid an official state visit the the country in 2000.

The last official US visit took place in 2009 when special envoy Stephen Bosworth sought to restart stalled six-party negotiations on North Korea's nuclear programme.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.