North Korean negotiator heads to Russia

A high-ranking North Korean official with long experience in nuclear talks left on Tuesday for Russia, state media said, as the communist state steps up a diplomatic offensive after months of tension.

First vice foreign minister Kim Kye-Gwan was at the head of a delegation en route to the Russian capital, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief report.

A weekend report from Russia's RIA Novosti news agency said the North Korean envoy would discuss a possible resumption of talks about ending Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

In Moscow, Kim will meet Russia's First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, it said.

The trip comes as North Korea reaches out internationally after months of high tension triggered by its third nuclear test in February.

Kim has been a key figure in six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

The talks began in 2003 but have been long dormant. They also include Russia, the United States, China, South Korea and Japan.

North Korea has vowed never to give up its nuclear power, but says it is open to direct talks with the United States. Kim late last month discussed restarting the six-party talks in Beijing, where he met China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi.