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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Pyongyang paves way for US visit
Celebrations in Pyongyang to mark Kim Jong-il's 60th birthday
North Korea refused to resume talks last June
North Korea has announced it would welcome a visit by an envoy from the US State Department, officials in Washington say.

The move appears to signal the secretive Communist state's readiness to resume security talks after an 18-month break.

While Washington has not responded officially to the overture it has stated in the past that it is ready to meet North Korea at any time and in any place to resume the talks.

The US is likely to send senior State Department official Jack Pritchard, the BBC's Jon Leyne reports from the department in Washington.

Jack Pritchard
Pritchard is a Koreas expert
US relations with North Korea have been in difficulty since President George W Bush took office at the beginning of last year.

After Mr Bush showed little initial enthusiasm for continuing the security talks begun under the Clinton administration, North Korea refused to resume them when invited to do so last June.

Things were not helped when the country was designated part of an "axis of evil" by President Bush, our correspondent says.

Washington wants to stop North Korea being able to produce weapons of mass destruction and also to reduce the huge army facing its ally, South Korea.

In return, the North Koreans will be looking to extract as much aid as they can to keep alive their deeply troubled economy.

Earlier on Monday, Reuters news agency reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had invited former US President Bill Clinton to play a mediating role.

State Department officials in Washington have not commented on the report.

See also:

28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Tears as Korean relatives are reunited
29 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea, Japan resume 'kidnap' talks
25 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: North Korea's strategic moves
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