SEOUL - SOUTH Korea on Wednesday welcomed reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has expressed willingness to push ahead with six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
In a meeting with visiting Chinese officials last week, Mr Kim was quoted as saying he hopes to work with Beijing to advance the negotiations.
Mr Kim, quoted by China's official Xinhua news agency, also said his country is committed to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and does not want to raise tensions with the South.
'The government appreciates the remarks positively...and reaffirms its standing position that it will pursue the development of inter-Korean ties through dialogue,' said Kim Ho-Nyoun, spokesman for the South's unification ministry which handles cross-border ties.
'We hope the North will terminate all measures that enhance tensions and hinder cooperation at the earliest possible date, and respond positively to our offer for dialogue so that inter-Korean cooperative ties can be expanded.'
The South put its military on alert after the remarks, which followed months of cross-border tensions.
On the same day Pyongyang said it might not give up its nuclear weapons even after establishing diplomatic ties with Washington, as long as a US 'nuclear threat' remained.
But the North has also sent some apparently conciliatory signals to the new US administration. A New Year policy-setting editorial carried no criticism of the United States.
China hosts the talks on nuclear disarmament which also group the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.
They became bogged down in the final months of George W. Bush's administration over ways to verify the North's declared nuclear activities.
Mr Kim's meeting in Pyongyang with Wang Jiarui, a senior official with China's Communist Party, was the first known one with a foreign visitor since Mr Kim's reported stroke last August.
South Korean analysts said it shows that Mr Kim, who turns 67 next month, has recovered.
They said China may be trying to persuade its ally to push ahead with the disarmament talks now the new US administration has taken office. -- AFP