U.S. intelligence and security officials flew to Pyongyang in August and stayed there for two days, it emerged Thursday.
A U.S. military aircraft carrying CIA and National Security Council officials entered North Korean airspace along the West Sea route from Guam at 10:03 a.m. on Aug. 17 and returned to South Korean airspace on the same route at 10:17 a.m. on Aug. 19, two days later, according to South Korean government officials.
This was the second time since April that U.S. officials went to Pyongyang on a U.S. military aircraft that took off from Guam.
They included Daniel Russell, the White House senior director for Asian affairs, and Sydney Seiler, a former CIA officer and Korea policy chief at the NSC, pundits believe.
A diplomatic source in Seoul said apparently President Barack Obama, who was then bidding for a second term in office, secretly sent the officials to North Korea to minimize disruptions to the U.S. presidential election.
Although foreign policy issues rarely sway voters, there was talk at the time that North Korea could be preparing another nuclear or missile test, which Republican challenger Mitt Romney could have seized on to portray Obama as soft on America's enemies.
Now the U.S. election is over, North Korea appears to have made swift progress in preparations for another rocket launch. Pundits speculate that the deal reached in Pyongyang was that it would wait until Obama was safely re-elected.
This could explain why there has been no strong condemnation of the North's preparations from Washington.
But others guess that Washington simply wanted to open a communication channel with North Korea amid icy inter-Korean ties.
"Nobody can rule out that such direct dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang will continue in the future," a source said.