Senior South Korean officials said Monday they are optimistic North Korea (search) will return this month to nuclear disarmament talks after Seoul's point man on the discussions made a visit to the United States last week.

Unification Minister Chung Dong-young (search) told his ministry it should focus on achieving a resumption of the talks this month. "We must make creative efforts for resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, once the six-party framework is activated and opened," Chung said.

North Korea has for the past year boycotted the talks aimed at shutting down a nuclear program that U.S. intelligence believes already has produced at least two atomic bombs. Those talks include the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan (search) and Russia. Previous meetings have been held in Beijing.

Kim Jong Il raised hopes last month when he told Chung that the North might return to the table as early as this month. But he offered no specific date.

Chung then held talks in Washington last week with senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, and later alluded to a secret proposal the South Korean government intends to introduce in the negotiations.

"We agreed that the next six-party talks, when they open, will gain momentum if we combine the proposals from the previous talks and South Korea's 'important proposal,"' Chung said Friday. Seoul has not publicly disclosed the contents of the "important proposal."

South Korean media have reported it is a broad package of economic and energy incentives, including a "Marshall Plan" type of program for the impoverished North, referring to the massive aid program the United States provided Western Europe after World War II.

Chung said he explained the proposal to North Korean leader Kim when they met in Pyongyang on June 17. Kim responded that he would give an answer after careful consideration.

Christopher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state and the official in charge of U.S. efforts on the North's nuclear program, has said that the United States has no problems with Seoul's proposal.

Kim Sook, director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau, said the visit was positive and also predicted an early resumption of disarmament talks after the meeting in Washington.