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South Korean Minister Holds Surprise Meeting with North Korean Leader

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young (l) poses with Kim Jong Il
South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young has wrapped up a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The meeting comes as Seoul steps up its efforts to convince Pyongyang to return to multinational nuclear weapons talks.

South Korean authorities say Unification Minister Chung Dong-young conveyed a message Friday from President Roh Moo-hyun to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, saying Seoul seeks a resolution to the nuclear issue as soon as possible.

For the past year North Korea has boycotted multinational talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons capabilities. Pyongyang says it will add to its nuclear arsenal, despite past pledges to remain nuclear-free.

Mr. Chung reportedly received the offer to meet with Mr. Kim during a morning jog in Pyongyang, just hours before he was to depart for Seoul. Mr. Chung has been in Pyongyang since Tuesday, attending ceremonies marking the historic 2000 summit between the two countries.

The reclusive North Korean leader meets very rarely with international visitors. His meeting with Mr. Chung is the first with any senior South Korean official in three years.

No further details are yet available on the meeting, which is reported to have lasted several hours over a luncheon. Mr. Chung is expected to provide more information in a briefing Friday evening local time.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan says the meeting is the result of a good mood that has been building this week between officials from the North and South.

Mr. Lee says he thinks the meeting shows North Korea is making its best efforts at diplomacy.

Ryoo Kihl-jae is a dean at Kyungnam University's Graduate School of North Korean Studies here in Seoul. He says North Korean authorities are making smart political use of Minister Chung to further their economic goals.

"They would like to help Chung Dong-young's posture in South Korean politics, so they can expect to receive the Roh Moo-hyun government's economic aid to North Korea," he said.

North Korea is experiencing severe food shortages, and is expected to seek increased humanitarian assistance from Seoul. South Korean authorities say they treat humanitarian issues separately from the nuclear issue. However, they warn cooperation with the North could suffer if Pyongyang does not give up its nuclear weapons programs.