North Korean Leader Positive About Talks Offer With U.S.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il responded "affirmatively" to a South Korean offer to reopen talks with the United States, Indonesia's president said Saturday after a diplomatic trip.

Megawati Sukarnoputri flew to Seoul after an official three-day visit to North Korea, during which she held talks with its reclusive leader and carried a message from South Korea.

"I delivered a message from (South Korean) President Kim Dae-jung, to which (North Korean) leader Kim Jong Il responded affirmatively," Megawati Sukarnoputri said at a joint news conference with the South Korean president.

The Indonesian president did not disclose details of her discussion with Kim Jong Il, but South Korean officials said the message she delivered to him included an appeal for Pyongyang to revive stalled dialogue with Washington.

It was the first sign that North Korea might be open to a Bush administration offer to restart talks on a range of issues, including its missile stockpile and other weapons of mass destruction. Ties between all three nations suffered after President Bush said North Korea was part of "an axis of evil."

North Korea has already agreed to reopen a stalled dialogue with Seoul by accepting a special South Korean envoy next week. The envoy's mission is to revive stalled reconciliation talks aimed at eventually reuniting the divided Korean peninsula.

Inter-Korean exchanges, which flourished after the two Korean leaders met in Pyongyang in 2000, are currently frozen amid tension between the United States and North Korea.

Shortly after taking office, President Bush expressed skepticism about the North Korean leader. Relations worsened after Bush labeled North Korea part of "an axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq, accusing all three nations of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.

During a visit to South Korea in February, Bush said his view of North Korea had not changed. He offered, however, to start talks with the North despite U.S. concerns over Pyongyang's alleged attempts to build nuclear weapons after promising in 1994 to stop the arms program. North Korea rejected that offer.

South Korea is a key U.S. ally. About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. The Korean border is the world's most heavily armed, with nearly 2 million troops deployed on both sides.

Megawati and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, are childhood acquaintances. They first met in 1965 in Indonesia at the 10th anniversary of a summit of the Nonaligned Movement of third world countries. They were accompanying their fathers at the summit.

Kim Jong Il took power after his father Kim Il Sung, who ruled North Korea for nearly half a century, died in 1994.

Friendly relations between Indonesia and North Korea ended in 1966 when Indonesia's second president, Suharto, ousted Megawati's father, Sukarno. Suharto outlawed communism and banned Indonesians from visiting communist countries.

Sukarno visited North Korea in 1964.