SEOUL (Reuters)-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il held a rare meeting in Pyongyang on Friday with a senior South Korean official who pressed him to address growing regional concern over North Korea”s nuclear ambitions.
Unification Minister Chung Dong-young delivered a message from South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun calling for an early resolution of the nuclear crisis, a ministry spokesman was quoted as saying in a pool report from Pyongyang.
"At the meeting, they exchanged substantive views on the North Korean nuclear problem for about one hour and 30 minutes," the spokesman was quoted as saying.
Kim”s response or comments were not available.
Roh met President Bush in Washington last week and the two renewed their commitment to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis through diplomatic means.
The famously reclusive North Korean leader rarely meets officials from other countries. Chung received the formal invitation while he was on a morning jog.
The meeting lasted about five hours, including lunch, at a nearby guest house, and the two were joined later by former top South Korean officials instrumental in setting up a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000, pool reports from Pyongyang said.
"I want to see past acquaintances," Kim was quoted as saying.
Chung is expected to return to Seoul later on Friday and will brief Roh on the visit, a ministry official in Seoul said.
Government officials and analysts were encouraged by the meeting, coming at such a critical time, but said it was early to say if Kim will use it to pass a message to Washington or Seoul, or if it will lead to any breakthrough on the nuclear issue.
The talks came as delegates from South Korea were in Pyongyang to mark the fifth anniversary of the landmark summit between Kim and then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
MESSAGE FROM PYONGYANG?
There is growing concern over whether North Korea will return to stalled six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs. The last round of talks was in June last year.
Washington has said the North has told U.S. officials Pyongyang will return, but the communist state did not set a date. The talks bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
One analyst said Kim may use the meeting to deliver a message to the South Korean president.
"The North may say that they appreciate Roh”s efforts for the six-party talks. And there is a possibility that Kim will say he is considering a summit meeting with Roh," said Paik Hak-soon of South Korea”s Sejong Institute.
The North”s leader promised at the summit in June 15, 2000, to visit the South but has yet to do so.
"A good mood has been building, even though it has been quite a while since officials from the North and South last met," South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan told reporters.
Roh said on his return to Seoul from Washington that North Korea could expect flexibility in the six-party process and added that South Korea would give details of an incentive package to the North once Pyongyang returned to the negotiating table.
Chung received word of the meeting with Kim Jong-il during his morning jog. A black Mercedes sedan was waiting for Chung, who was in a jogging suit. A top North Korean official emerged from the car and in a 30-second conversation informed the minister the North”s supreme commander wanted to meet him.
Chung is the first South Korean senior official to meet Kim since April 2002, the Unification Ministry said.