Workers’ Party official allowed to attend U.S. forum

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Workers’ Party official allowed to attend U.S. forum

A North Korean official in charge of policies on South Korea will attend a private academic forum in the United States next month, an official in Seoul said yesterday.

Won Tong-yon, deputy director of the United Front Department of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, will travel at the invitation of a University of Georgia professor, according to the South Korean government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The department oversees policy on the South.

“To my understanding, the U.S. government recently issued visas for Deputy Director Won and six other people traveling with him,” the official said.

Two South Korean lawmakers - Representative Won Hee-ryong of the Grand National Party and Representative Park Joo-sun of the Democratic Party - are also expected to attend the seminar, raising the possibility of a meeting between the sides.

The official, however, played down the significance of the visit, saying Won is unlikely to meet with U.S. or South Korean officials there.

Won will be attending the forum as a member of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, rather than as deputy director of his department. The committee is affiliated with the department and handles inter-Korean affairs.

The trip comes amid recent signs of a thaw in inter-Korean relations after months of tension in the wake of North Korea’s two deadly attacks on the South last year. Since July, the Koreas have held two rounds of talks on the North’s nuclear program, while the United States is reported to be seeking another session of bilateral talks with the communist state next month.

Yesterday, Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the GNP, crossed the border into North Korea to tour an inter-Korean industrial park there, a move seen as an attempt to improve ties with Pyongyang.

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