Former President Jimmy Carter is planning to travel to North Korea soon, possibly early next month, U.S. government officials said Thursday.

Spokesman Mark Toner said the State Department had been "made aware of the trip" but stressed Carter would be traveling in a private capacity.

"He's not traveling with an official U.S. delegation, and he does not carry an official message," Toner said.

He referred further questions to the Carter Center, which declined to comment.

Carter, who was president from 1977-81, is well-regarded in North Korea despite the longtime animosity between the U.S. and the secretive communist government.

He has visited several times in a private capacity, most recently last August, to secure the release of an imprisoned American.

Multi-nation disarmament talks with North Korea have been on hold for the past two years amid growing concerns over the North's nuclear programs.