Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The acting North Korean ambassador to Rome, reportedly missing since November, may have requested U.S. asylum in Italy, according to an Italian press report.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported Friday that Ambassador Jo Song Gil is seeking entry into the United States and is under the protection of Italian intelligence.
The Italian foreign ministry has denied it has received an asylum application from Jo, and that it is not protecting the North Korean envoy.
But an Italian diplomatic source who spoke to La Repubblica on the condition of anonymity said Jo is receiving assistance from Italian intelligence while his U.S. asylum application is under review.
Jo reached out to the Italian government as early as mid-November, according to La Repubblica. Chiefs of Italian agencies and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte have been in contact with U.S. authorities to discuss Jo's case, the report says.
Jo's possible defection comes at a sensitive time for U.S.-North Korea relations.
CNN reported Thursday the Trump administration is scouting locations for a second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Trump has expressed enthusiasm for talks, and has said he received a "great letter" from Kim.
One of the first people in Italy to take note of Jo's absence is Antonio Razzi, a former Italian lawmaker, the Washington Post reported.
The two men last met on Oct. 29, when Jo reportedly told Razzi he wanted to go on a tour of Italy before returning to Pyongyang.
Razzi is the head of an Italian-North Korean bilateral friendship group, according to the report.
Razzi noticed Jo was missing when he tried to call him on his cellphone, and the call was not returned.
South Korean news service News 1 reported Friday Jo was appointed to the North Korean embassy in Rome in May 2015, and assumed the acting ambassador position after Italy expelled then-Ambassador Mun Jong Nam in 2017.
In September of last year, Jo visited furniture factories in Veneto, according to the report.