SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean envoys will travel to North Korea next week to discuss the standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear program, officials said Friday.
Lim Dong-won, a special adviser to President Kim Dae-jung and a former unification minister, will visit Pyongyang on Monday, Kim's office said. He will be accompanied by an envoy of President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office next month.
North Korea announced the envoy's visit at the same time in a report carried by state-run news agency KCNA.
South Korea had consulted with allies about sending the envoys, said Park Sun-sook, a spokeswoman for the presidential Blue House. They will travel to North Korea on a special plane and stay there two or three days, she said.
The visit is part of South Korea's efforts to end the standoff with North Korea over its alleged nuclear weapons program and recent moves to restart its old nuclear facilities.
In a televised interview, Roh said he also would propose a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il after taking office.
"It's important to meet and discuss problems without any conditions attached," Roh said.
North Korea, however, has said it can only resolve the nuclear issue through talks with the United States, which has raised the possibility of aid for the North if it drops its weapons activity. The North also wants a nonaggression treaty with Washington.
President Kim said dialogue was the best way to resolve the standoff, noting that past U.S. presidents had held talks with the Soviet Union and China at the height of the Cold War.
"Sometimes we don't like what the other party does, but we need to talk with them and negotiate," Kim said at a lunch with foreign reporters.
In earlier Cabinet-level negotiations, the South had been pushing the North to announce specific steps to defuse its standoff with Washington — but in the end Seoul was only able to win a general pledge to resolve the dispute peacefully.
"Although we have not been able to draw out a more progressive position on North Korea's nuclear issue, we have sufficiently delivered our and the international community's concern on the nuclear issue," the South said in a statement.
Still, the five-page joint statement was a step forward for South Korea, which sought to air concerns over Pyongyang's nuclear program at the talks — the first in months between the two Koreas.
Before heading home Friday, the North Korean delegation hailed the agreement as "a positive development that brightens the future of South-North Korean relations and provides hope, confidence and optimism."
Both sides pledged to work toward reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula, which has been divided since 1945. Projects include cross-border rail and road links, as well as reunions of long-separated family members.
The North, meanwhile, denied that it had admitted to a U.S. envoy in October that it had a secret nuclear weapons program. Soon after announcing the Northern admission, the United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the North, and Pyongyang retaliated by expelling weapons inspectors and pulling out of a global anti-nuclear pact.
In an interview published Thursday in Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan, Oh Sung Chul, a North Korean Foreign Ministry director, said Northern officials denied having plans to build nuclear weapons in talks with U.S. envoy James Kelly.
Oh said Kelly, assistant U.S. secretary of state, claimed to have satellite data proving the North was developing bombs.
"We asked him to present evidence, but the special envoy did not present the so-called satellite photos," Oh was quoted as saying, adding that there was no chance that Kelly misunderstood them. The paper said the interview was in Pyongyang.
"I clearly say that we denied from the start their allegations of a nuclear weapons program using enriched uranium," Oh said.