Kang Sok-ju, a seasoned North Korean diplomat, is likely to make a rare trip to Europe this week, government sources said Tuesday, in a move seen as the North's efforts to break from its international isolation.
Kang, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, is expected to make a tour of Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, starting later this week, to meet political figures in those countries, the sources said.
Given his status in North Korea, however, Kang's visit to Europe takes on significance at a time when burgeoning signs of the North's diplomatic contact with major countries are growing, experts said.
"Taking into consideration Kang's status in North Korea, his visit may have a specific purpose," a source said, requesting anonymity.
Kang's envisioned visit to Europe coincides with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong's planned trip to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly slated for later this month.
Speculation is growing that North Korea and the United States may revive their contact channels amid reports that high-ranking officials from the U.S. made a secret visit to Pyongyang on an aircraft on Aug. 16 to discuss the issue of three detained American citizens.
Kang may meet with high officials from Japan during his stay in Switzerland slated for late next week as a ranking official dealing with the Japanese abduction issue will be in Geneva for a seminar, the sources noted.
In May, North Korea agreed to re-investigate the fate of Japanese people believed to have been abducted by the North's agents in the 1970s and 80s. In July, Pyongyang launched a special committee to investigate the case and in return, Japan lifted some of its unilateral sanctions imposed on North Korea.
The six-party talks aimed at curbing the North's nuke ambitions have been dormant since late 2008 when Pyongyang walked away from the negotiation table. The talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.
North Korea has called for an "unconditional" resumption of the talks, but Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang should first take concrete steps toward denuclearization. (Yonhap)