(LEAD) N.K. leader says he's open to candid talks with S. Korea
(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS more info from para 2)
SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Friday called for improved relations with South Korea, saying that he is open to talks with Seoul in an open-minded manner for unification.
In his New Year's message delivered live on the North's television, Kim said North Korea can hold candid dialogue with the South, calling on Seoul to honor an inter-Korean deal reached in August to defuse military tension.
"We are willing to have talks in an open-minded manner with anyone who wants peace and unification," Kim said. "South Korea should honor the spirit of the inter-Korean agreement in August. Seoul should refrain from doing acts that hurt the conciliatory mood."
The two Koreas reached a rare deal on Aug. 25 to ease military tension following a land mine blast near the inter-Korean border blamed on North Korea.
As part of such a deal, the two sides held high-level talks over how to mend ties last month, but they ended the meeting without any agreement, dimming the outlook for their ties.
Kim did not mention North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
For the fourth straight year, the North's leader delivered a verbal message on the first day of the new year.
The North's New Year's message is closely monitored by South Korea and others as it offers clues to the North's annual policy goals.
Earlier this week, Kim Yang-gon, the leader's key aide who handled inter-Korean affairs, died in a car accident, which analysts said could cast a cloud over Seoul-Pyongyang ties.
The Workers' Party of Korea, the North's ruling party, plans to hold the first congress in more than three decades in May, when Kim may unveil new lines of policies and conduct a major reshuffle.
Kim stressed the importance of holding the party congress, calling for thorough preparation for the event.