North Korea has asked to send a senior envoy to next week's inauguration of Barack Obama, the US president-elect, but the idea was rejected by US officials, South Korean media reports have said.
The reported proposal has been seen as a sign that Pyongyang may be looking to forge warmer ties with the incoming US administration after eight years of often tense exchanges with the Bush presidency.
According to South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, the North suggested sending Kim Kye Gwan, a vice foreign minister, to the January 20 inauguration in Washington DC.
Kim has been North Korea's top envoy to the six-nation talks process on North Korea's nuclear programme.
US officials have made no comment on Pyongyang's reported request.
Yu Myung-hwan, South Korea's foreign minister, was quoted as saying he was aware of the proposal, but "I understand things are not going that way".
No diplomatic relations
|Preparations are well underway for Obama's inauguration to be held on January 20 [AFP]
Last week however, the US state department informed foreign embassies in Washington that ambassadors and spouses would be allowed to attend the inauguration as representatives of their countries, but any other foreign leaders would be excluded from the event.
"These invitations are only for the chiefs of diplomatic missions and their spouses and are not transferable," Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, wrote in a diplomatic note sent to embassies on January 6.
North Korea does not have diplomatic relations with the US and as such has no embassy in Washington.
Efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes will be one of the leading foreign policy issues in Obama's in-tray when he takes office.
Six nation talks on the issue - involving the US, China, Russia, Japan and North and South Korea - have been dogged by delays and disputes over measures to verify the North's disarmament.
But analysts have said the incoming president is likely to take a significantly different tack on North Korea to that pursued by the Bush administration.
During last year's US election campaign, Obama suggested that he was willing to sit down for one-on-one talks with North Korean leaders if it would lead to a breakthrough on the issue.
Bush, who famously added North Korea to his "axis of evil" states, repeatedly ruled out bilateral talks with the North, saying any negotiations on the nuclear issue could only be discussed with North Korea's neighbours under the six nation format.