North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (search) said the communist nation could return to international nuclear disarmament talks as early as July, according to a top South Korean official who met him Friday in Pyongyang.
"If it is certain that the United States is respecting the North as a partner, North Korea could come to the six-party talks as early as July, but it has to be further negotiated with the United States," South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said after arriving in Seoul, quoting Kim.
Chung met with Kim earlier Friday in the North Korean capital, the first top South Korean official to see him in more than three years.
The North has boycotted six-nation nuclear talks for nearly a year, citing "hostile" U.S. policies. The negotiations include China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas.
"North Korea has never given up or refused the six-party talks," Chung quoted Kim as saying. Kim added that a declaration made between the two Koreas calling for denuclearization of the peninsula remained valid.
A South Korean government delegation has been in Pyongyang since Tuesday for anniversary celebrations of a landmark summit between Kim and former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung (search) in June 2000 — the first and only such talks between leaders of the Koreas that technically remain at war.
During their meeting Friday, Kim and Chung agreed to resume military talks between the sides and also to continue family reunions between relatives separated by their heavily fortified border.