Korean Leaders Meet to Restart Nuke Talks

Leaders of the two Koreas agreed Saturday to resume talks between their nations that broke down last summer and to discuss the international standoff over the North's nuclear weapons ambitions, an Indonesian official said.

The agreements on reviving the stalled talks came as Washington's top envoy on the nuclear dispute, the chief U.S. negotiator in the multinational talks, Christopher Hill (search), arrived in Seoul for meetings with South Korean officials.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan (search) and North Korea's No. 2 man, Kim Yong Nam, met on the sidelines of an Asian-African summit in Jakarta, said Jacob Tobing, Indonesia's ambassador to South Korea. It was the second meeting at the summit between the two leaders, who addressed such key issues as attempts to persuade the North to return to six-party talks aimed at getting Pyongyang (search) to suspend its nuclear program.

Three rounds of nuclear disarmament talks — which involve the Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States — have been held since 2003 with no breakthrough. A September session was never held because the North refused to attend, citing Washington's alleged hostile policy toward Pyongyang.

In February, the North claimed it already possessed nuclear weapons and would indefinitely boycott the talks. That claim has not been independently verified.

"They agreed to resume the inter-Korean dialogue ... and they agreed to exchange views over the six-party talks," said Tobing, who was at the conference with the South Korean delegation.

"We know they both need this kind of meeting so we (Indonesia) offered to facilitate it. I'm very satisfied. At least one step has been taken but there is a lot of work ahead."

Kim Sang Soo, the information attache at the South Korean embassy in Jakarta, confirmed a meeting took place but refused to provide details.

The first meeting Friday was the highest-level contact between the two Koreas since a 2000 summit between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The inter-Korean talks have been on hold since July after mass defections to South Korea from the North that Pyongyang labeled the "kidnapping" of its citizens.

The Koreas were divided in 1945. Although separated by the world's last Cold War frontier lined by nearly 2 million troops, the two Koreas have dramatically boosted ties in recent years — mostly through economic projects that provide the impoverished North with desperately needed cash.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Neither leader spoke to reporters as they left the talks, which lasted about 30 minutes.
The leaders agreed Friday on the need for the two countries to work together on territorial claims on a set of islets at the center of a dispute between South Korea and Japan, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said. The rocky outcroppings are called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

During his visit to Seoul, Hill plans to meet Monday with Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon on Monday, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Maureen Cornack said.

The U.S. envoy also will visit China and Japan before returning to the United States on April 30, a U.S. official in Seoul said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who also is attending the Asian-African summit, told reporters he hoped diplomatic attempts to induce North Korea to rejoin the six-party talks would soon succeed.

Asked how the U.N. Security Council would react if the North tested a nuclear device, Annan said: "I hope we will dissuade North Korea (and) that North Korea will not take this action."