SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea ordered the U.N. nuclear agency to keep out of its business Monday, a scornful diatribe that came as top North and South Korean officials held cordial talks on resolving Pyongyang's nuclear crisis.
Moving ahead with Seoul's diplomatic offensive, South Korea's presidential envoy met with a close confidant of reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il -- and there was speculation that he and other envoys could meet with Kim himself in the coming days.
Pyongyang's acceptance of the envoys could signal an easing of its refusal to allow third parties to help end the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which it insists is a matter between it and the United States.
The Southern delegation reported to the government in Seoul that the talks were "sincere," while the North's state-run news agency, KCNA, said discussions were held "in an atmosphere overflowing with compatriotic feelings and mutual understanding."
Washington has supported Seoul's efforts and has widely sought international intervention in the dispute. It also has pushed to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council, which could increase pressure on the impoverished North with sanctions.
But the U.N. nuclear agency had indefinitely postponed a meeting of its 35-nation board to decide on Security Council intervention, at Seoul's request. South Korea feared such a meeting would derail its current diplomatic trip by enraging Pyongyang.
But the U.N. spokesman's office at the New York headquarters said Monday that a consensus was emerging on the board of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency to meet in early February to consider the question.
The North has said it would consider U.N. sanctions an act of war, and on Monday, issued a diatribe against IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, calling him a "poor servant and mouthpiece" of the United States.
The IAEA is biased and should have no role in trying to resolve the standoff, the North said.
"It is, therefore, an objective reality that the secretariat of the IAEA is not in a position to discuss the DPRK's issue," the North's official news agency said in its dispatch, using the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
The current dispute began in October when U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted having a nuclear program based on uranium enrichment, in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States. Washington suspended oil shipments to North Korea, which then expelled IAEA inspectors and withdrew from a global anti-nuclear treaty.
Russia, which with China is one of the communist North's few allies, has sent an envoy to Pyongyang to try to resolve the standoff, and Seoul announced its plan to send envoys last week after a round of North-South Cabinet-level talks in Seoul.
On Monday, Lim Dong-won, a national security adviser to outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung met with Kim Yong Sun, head of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a Northern communist party organization handling inter-Korean affairs.
Lim and a second envoy -- a representative of President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office Feb. 25 -- were expected to stay in North Korea for two or three days.
South Korean media speculated that a meeting with Kim Jong Il could come as soon as Tuesday.
The Northern official is known as a close confidant of President Kim and frequently accompanies him on inspection tours of military and industrial installations.
The Lim-Kim meeting "discussed matters of mutual concern related to the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a sincere atmosphere," the South Korean delegation said in a report to the government in Seoul, part of which was released to the press.
North Korea's news agency said "the grave situation" on the Korean Peninsula and other matters were discussed.
No South Korean journalists were traveling with the eight-member Southern delegation, and officials in Seoul did not provide many details of the delegation's activities. Lim had been expected to carry a personal letter from Kim Dae-jung to Kim Jong Il.
"I will explain the concerns of our people and the international society over the nuclear issue and explore ways of resolving it peacefully," Lim said in Seoul before heading to the North.
He said he was not carrying any specific "solution" to the dispute, and that it would probably take "a considerably long time" to resolve.
Also Monday, EU officials said the bloc's 15 members had given their go-ahead for Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, to put together a possible diplomatic mission to Pyongyang.