US official secretly visited North Korea last year: report

US official secretly visited North Korea last year: report

LOS ANGELES - Agence France-Presse
US official secretly visited North Korea last year: report

This undated photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 23, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) during a flight exercise and a paratrooping drill of the Air Force and Anti-Air Force and Large Combined Unit 630. AFP PHOTO / HO / KCNA via KNS

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 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 Joseph DeTrani, who at the time headed the National Counterproliferation Center 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 quotes the officials as saying that Sydney Seiler, a veteran CIA analyst, who speaks fluent Korean and is in charge of Korea policy at the National Security Council, went on both trips. 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 quotes him as saying in a telephone interview.

DeTrani said he and other US experts initially saw signs that Kim Jong Un 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 noted. 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 program.