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2008/05/10 19:23 KST
Pyongyang waiting for positive gesture by Seoul: N.K. official

   SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is willing to resume dialogue with South Korea if Seoul's new conservative government makes a positive gesture and pledges to uphold previous agreements between the two sides, a ranking North Korean official was quoted as saying Saturday.

   "The current chill in relations between the South and the North will go away if the South's highest-ranking official promises to uphold the June 15 Joint Declaration" from the 2002 inter-Korean summit, Ri Chung-bok, a North Korean deputy chairman of an inter-Korean body, the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, was quoted as saying.

   Ri made the remarks earlier this week while meeting in Pyongyang with South Korea's former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, currently serving as head of the South Korean branch of the organization. Jeong and some 90 other South Koreans returned to Seoul Saturday after a four-day visit to the communist nation to attend the opening of a joint tree farm there.

   "North Korean officials also asked if I had brought any messages from the South Korean government," Jeong told reporters, adding the North Koreans appeared "very disappointed" when they learned he was not carrying any.

   If the remarks by the North Korean official are true, it may mean that relations between the divided Koreas can easily be restored as the new Lee Myung-bak administration has repeatedly pledged to inherit agreements of previous governments with the communist North, although with some added conditions.

   In addition to continuing and expanding joint economic projects, Lee has promised to help raise North Korea's per capita income to US$3,000 within the next 10 years if Pyongyang abandons all of its nuclear programs.

   Pyongyang reacted angrily to the offer, claiming the South Korean president is looking down on the North, if not mocking it. It has shut all its doors to any South Korean official since shortly after the inauguration of Lee's administration in late February.

   "We refrained from making any comments (about President Lee) because we had some expectations for him, but we had to take actions in self-defense as the South linked the nuclear issue to economic cooperation and made remarks hinting at possible preemptive strikes against our nation," Ri was quoted as telling Jeong.

   The North Korean, however, dismissed as "absurd" the South Korean president's recent proposal to establish liaison offices in each other's capitals, according to Jeong.

   "Still, North Korea's stance toward the South appears to be firm, thus it seems very unlikely to move first to restore the stalled inter-Korean dialogue," Jeong said.

   bdk@yna.co.kr
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