A ranking North Korean official arrived in Beijing on Tuesday before possibly traveling to Malaysia for informal talks with former US officials or experts, a Japanese news report said.
North Korea's deputy foreign minister Han Song-ryol was seen at Beijing's international airport, according to Kyodo News.
"He could be set to meet former US officials or experts on North Korean issues, and the discussions will most likely be held completely behind-the-scenes under the informal, unofficial track II format," Kyodo reported, citing the source.
An official at Seoul's foreign ministry said he cannot confirm anything at the moment.
Han's possible trip to Malaysia, if confirmed, comes after North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test in September, just eight months after its previous nuke test.
The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) is working on a fresh sanctions resolution to punish Pyongyang for its latest nuclear provocation. In March, the UNSC slapped tougher sanctions on the North for its nuclear and long-range rocket launches early in the year.
Until recently, Han served as director-general handling US affairs at North Korea's foreign ministry, the report said.
Han met with a private U.S. delegation, which made a rare visit to North Korea in late September, the New York Times reported on Oct. 9.
During the Sept. 24-27 visit, the delegation discussed a US student detained in the communist nation, recovering the remains of American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War and possible flood assistance for the North, it said.
Experts said that if Han is flying to Malaysia for talks, the purpose of his visit is to explore options with the United States at a time when the country is slated to pick a new president next month.
"Han may try to deliver North Korea's message to US private experts if Pyongyang seeks to explore what conditions are needed to change the atmosphere after the US presidential election," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. (Yonhap)