North Korean leader Kim Jong-il held a rare meeting with a senior South Korean official on Friday amid growing regional concern about whether Pyongyang intends to return to talks on its nuclear weapons programs.
The famously reclusive Kim rarely meets officials from other countries. The man he met, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, received the invitation while he was out on a morning jog during a visit to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital.
Kim held talks with Chung and the two later had lunch together, a pool report from Pyongyang said.
"I want to see past acquaintances," Kim was quoted as saying.
No other details were immediately available.
The talks came as delegates from South Korea were in Pyongyang to mark the fifth anniversary of a landmark summit between Kim and then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
The timing of the meeting is significant, although it was too early to say whether Kim would use the encounter to make a breakthrough announcement or pass a message.
There is growing concern over whether North Korea will return to stalled six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs. The last round of talks was in June last year.
Washington has said the North has told U.S. officials Pyongyang will return, but the communist state did not set a date. The talks bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
One analyst said Kim may use the meeting to deliver a message to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.
"The North may say that they appreciate Roh's efforts for the six-party talks. And there is a possibility that Kim will say he is considering a summit meeting with Roh," said Paik Hak-soon of South Korea's Sejong Institute.
The North's leader promised at the summit in June 15, 2000, to visit the South but has yet to do so.
"A good mood has been building, even though it has been quite a while since officials from the North and South last met," South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan told reporters.
Roh met President Bush last Friday in Washington and the two leaders agreed the North should return quickly to the talks.
Roh said on his return to Seoul the North could expect flexibility in the six-party process and added the South would give details of an incentive package to the North once Pyongyang returned to the table.
On Thursday, Chung briefed the North's number-two leader on the renewed commitment by the United States and South Korea to resolve the nuclear crisis diplomatically, a ministry spokesman was quoted as saying in a pool report from Pyongyang.
Chung received word of the meeting with Kim Jong-il during his morning jog. A black Mercedes sedan was waiting for Chung, who was in a jogging suit. A top North Korean official emerged from the car and in a 30-second conversation informed the minister the North's supreme commander wanted to meet him.
Chung would be only the second South Korean senior official to meet Kim since the 2000 summit of the leaders of the North and South, the ministry said. In April 2002, Kim met a South Korean special envoy.
reclusive: seeking or preferring seclusion or isolation（隐居的）