SEOUL, South Korea - China's presidential envoy met with North Korea's top nuclear strategist amid intensifying international efforts to persuade Pyongyang to return to stalled six-nation talks on its atomic weapons programs.

Dai Bingguo, special envoy of Chinese President Hu Jintao, had a "candid and in-depth exchange of views" on bilateral, regional and international issues with the North's Fist Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju on Wednesday, Pyongyang's official news agency said.

Kang is North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's chief foreign policy brain and has been the main strategist for dealing with the standoff over its nuclear programs for decades. The Chinese delegation also included Beijing's chief nuclear negotiator, Wu Dawei.
The North's Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch that the talks went "in a comrade atmosphere" but did not give further details on their discussions. Still, it is widely believed that the nuclear row was a key topic among the "international issues" they discussed.

The meeting came as the U.S. is considering Pyongyang's long-held desire for direct talks amid the North's push to reach out to Washington and other negotiating partners following months of ratcheting up tensions with nuclear and missile tests.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday that the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, could visit Pyongyang as early as late October for bilateral talks. It cited an unidentified "senior diplomatic source."

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters later in the day that the U.S. is considering the North's invitation, but "no decisions have been made whether or not to accept that invitation."

North Korea has long sought one-on-one contact with Washington in hopes of raising its international profile, but U.S. officials have made clear that any such talks would have to be within the context of efforts to resume six-nation disarmament negotiations involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S.

Pyongyang withdrew from those negotiations in April to protest international criticism of a rocket launch that other nations suspected was a test of long-range missile technology. It then conducted a nuclear test in May, drawing tough new U.N. sanctions on its weapons exports and financial dealings.

But it has recently tried to reach out to Seoul and Washington. It freed detained American and South Korean citizens, pledged to resume suspended joint projects with South Korea, and also proposed talks with the U.S.

South Korea has been skeptical about the North's conciliatory gestures.

President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday the North is taking a softer line because it feels the pain of U.N. sanctions. Lee also said that Pyongyang has shown no sign of giving up its nuclear weapons.

Seoul's point man on North Korea, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, also cautioned Wednesday that past nuclear negotiations with the North ended up offering concessions to the regime while failing to disarm it, and that any dialogue with the regime should be firmly based on the goal of ridding the country of nuclear weapons.