Nuke dispute should be resolved: SK

SEOUL: A summit between the two Koreas should help resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear programs, a South Korea official said Saturday, as a negotiator for the North arrived in the U.S. in likely pursuit of bilateral talks with Washington.

The North's No. 2 nuclear negotiator, Ri Gun, could meet with chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Sung Kim in New York on Saturday to discuss bilateral talks, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.

The U.S. says it is willing to have direct talks with the North if it leads to resumption of six-party talks that also include South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

Asked whether Ri could meet with Kim or any other U.S. official before a security forum in San Diego, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Friday, "I don't have anything to announce about that, but I certainly wouldn't exclude it."

The North's reported push for a summit with the South and talks with Washington is part of a series of conciliatory moves by the regime in recent months after escalating tensions with nuclear and missile tests.

Analysts have said the moves show North Korea feels the pain of U.N. sanctions following its May nuclear test.

South Korea's largest television network KBS reported Thursday night that a senior South Korean official met with the North's spy chief, Kim Yang Gon, in Singapore last week and talked about a possible meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

North Korea first asked for the meeting, but the talks ended without agreement as the South demanded that the reclusive Kim visit the South, and the North balked at the demand citing security concerns, the report said. It cited an unidentified South Korean official.

Officials, including the South's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, declined to confirm the reports. But Hyun said Friday that progress in international efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons programs is key to a summit with the North.

"Our government's position remains unchanged that we would not hold a meeting for meeting's sake," Lee Dong-kwan, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said Saturday in comments posted on South Korea's presidential Web site.

He said a summit "should be helpful to progress in the resolution of North Korea's nuclear issue," noting there won't be any behind-the-scenes negotiations or contract with North Korea over a summit.

North Korea's Kim has held summits with the South twice: the first in 2000 with the South's then-President Kim Dae-jung and the other in 2007 with then-President Roh Moo-hyun.

Relations between the two Koreas frayed badly after the more conservative Lee took office early last year. But Lee has said he is willing to meet with Kim Jong Il at any time, but that any such summit should tackle the North Korean nuclear issue.

North Korea pulled out of the six-party disarmament talks in April, but Kim Jong Il said earlier this month that the North could rejoin them depending on progress in its possible one-on-one negotiations with the U.S.