The LA Times reports a White House official made two secret visits to North Korea last year in an unsuccessful effort to improve relations after new ruler Kim Jong Un assumed power. The brief visits in April and August were aimed at encouraging the new leadership to moderate its foreign policy after the December death of Kim’s father, longtime autocrat Kim Jong Il.
The North Korean ruling elite apparently spurned the outreach effort. The former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the back-channel trips have not been formally disclosed, said the first visit was an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Pyongyang not to launch a long-range rocket.
North Korea went ahead and carried out the launch April 12. The missile flew only a few minutes before it exploded and crashed into the sea. A subsequent test of another long-range rocket in December was successful.
The April trip was led by Joseph DeTrani, a North Korea expert who then headed the National Counter Proliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates U.S. intelligence agencies, the former U.S. officials said.
It was unclear who led the August trip. Sydney Seiler, who is in charge of Korea policy at the National Security Council, apparently went on both trips. Seiler, a veteran CIA analyst, speaks fluent Korean.