North Korea affirms peace talks idea, leader says

SEOUL, South Korea -- Indonesia's president said North Korea's reclusive leader had responded positively to a message from South Korea calling for a resumption of peace talks aimed at reuniting the divided peninsula.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, the first international leader to visit the isolated communist nation since it was labeled part of an "axis of evil" by President Bush, said her country was willing to provide support for inter-Korean talks.

North Korea had already agreed to accept a visit from a South Korean presidential envoy next week. The envoy's mission is to revive stalled reconciliation talks.

"I delivered a message from South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, to which North Korean leader Kim Jong Il responded affirmatively," Megawati said at a joint news conference with the South Korean president.

South Korean officials said the message she referred to was an appeal for Pyongyang to revive talks with Seoul and Washington. Inter-Korean exchanges have all but frozen amid tension between the United States and North Korea.

Korean-only dialogue

The statement was initially taken to mean North Korea might be willing to reopen talks with the United States, but a Seoul official said he understood the North's affirmative response applied only to inter-Korean dialogue.

"She was explaining his Kim Jong Il's hope for openhearted talks between South and North Korea," South Korean presidential national security adviser Yim Sung-joon said after the news conference.

Asked whether Megawati was commenting on U.S.-North Korea dialogue as well, Yim said he was not aware of that.

A White House spokesman said in a statement Saturday that the Bush administration welcomed the resumption of a dialogue

"We have always supported President Kim Dae-jung's policy engagement with the North and we look to the North to respond by taking steps to decrease the tension in the peninsula. ... We, too, remain ready for a dialogue with the North," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe, traveling with Bush at the president's ranch in Texas.

South Korean president Kim Dae-jung lauded Megawati's diplomatic efforts.

"I expect South-North Korea relations to make a breakthrough at an early date, thanks to President Megawati's devoted cooperation and support," he said.

Inter-Korean exchanges flourished after the two Korean leaders met in Pyongyang in 2000.