AP, NKorea news agency plan AP bureau in Pyongyang

June 29, 2011 - 1:30 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The Associated Press and the North Korean state news agency have signed a series of agreements, including one for the opening of a comprehensive AP news bureau in Pyongyang, the organizations announced Wednesday.

A memorandum of understanding agreed by the AP and the Korean Central News Agency would expand the AP's presence in North Korea to a level unmatched by any other Western news organization. It would build upon the AP's existing video news bureau, which opened in Pyongyang in 2006, by allowing AP text and photo journalists to work in North Korea as well.

With the signing, the agencies agreed to begin work immediately on detailed planning needed to set up and operate the new bureau as quickly as possible. It would be the first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital.

In addition, the agencies signed a contract designating the AP as the exclusive international distributor of contemporary and historic video from KCNA's archive. The agencies also plan a joint photo exhibition in New York next year. They already had an agreement between them to distribute KCNA photo archives to the global market, signed earlier this year.

"This agreement between AP and KCNA is historic and significant," AP President and CEO Tom Curley said. "AP is once again being trusted to open a door to better understanding between a nation and the world. We are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to providing coverage for AP's global audience in our usually reliable and insightful way."

Kim Pyong Ho, president of KCNA, said after a signing ceremony late Tuesday: "I hope this agreement contributes not only to the strengthening of relations between our two news agencies but also to the better understanding between the peoples of our two countries and the improvement of the DPRK-U.S. relations." DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the formal name of the state.

Five years ago, AP Television News, headquartered in London, became the first Western news organization to establish an office in North Korea.

The AP in recent years has been talking with North Korean officials on various topics including how to set up broader access for AP print and photo journalists to Pyongyang. As the contacts progressed, KCNA hosted Curley in Pyongyang in March.

AP Seoul Bureau Chief Jean H. Lee and Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder have made several extensive reporting trips to North Korea in the past several months as part of unprecedented coverage of the country and its people.

A five-member KCNA delegation, led by Kim, arrived Saturday for talks with the AP at the AP's world headquarters in New York City.

Government officials in each country were aware of the AP-KCNA initiative and the U.S. State Department approved visas for the group coming to New York. U.S. government policy backs some cultural exchanges with North Korea as a way to build trust between the two countries. The United States and North Korea are still technically at war after a 58-year armistice agreement ended the fighting of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Founded in 1846, the AP maintains bureaus in some 100 countries around the world and is the oldest and largest of the world's major news agencies.