South Korea Proposes New Talks

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, center, makes his way through the crowd with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, left, before speaking to local Democrats at Harkin's annual fundraising steak fry dinner, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2006, in Indianola, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
South Korea said on Thursday it had proposed ministerial talks with North Korea in Seoul to begin on September 15, responding to an offer from the North, which had stalled the reconciliation process.

"We conveyed our message via phone call to the North seeking to hold ministerial talks in Seoul," a Unification Ministry spokeswoman said, adding the talks would last four days.

North Korea, after months of silence, announced on Sunday it would immediately resume stalled talks with Seoul.

The two countries remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended without a peace treaty.

The latest overture may be the result of a visit to North Korea by Chinese president Jiang Semin. Jiang used his three-day visit to nudge North Korea toward the outside world, encouraging it to improve relations with Japan, the United States and Europe. He supported renewing talks with rival South Korea that have stalled since March.

"We support North-South efforts to engage in further dialogues to improve their relationship," said Liu Hongcai, an upper-level Communist Party official who accompanied Jiang to Pyongyang.

"China will, as always, support the efforts of North Korea toward independent and peaceful reunification."

Jiang also declared renewed confidence in China's relations with North Korea after his first visit to the reclusive East Asian nation in 11 years.

Jiang inspected eggs at an ostrich farm and met Chinese diplomats and students before receiving a sendoff from North Korea's military, as well as leader Kim Jong Il. The two men embraced on the airport tarmac, grinning broadly, before Jiang departed.

"The Chinese side is fully confident in the long-term and steady development" of ties with the North, China's official Xinhua News Agency cited Jiang as saying in a message of thanks to Kim.

"The flower of China-DPRK friendship will blossom more colorfully and yield more fruits with the joint efforts by both sides," Jiang said. North Korea's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Liu and Wang Jiarui, another party official who accompanied Jiang, said the three formal meetings and several informal discussions between the two leaders further what they called the crucial relationship between two longtime communist allies.

"Both sides are committed to carrying on the good tradition of neighborliness and friendly cooperation," Wang, vice minister of the international department of the party's Central Committee, said at a news conference.

Jiang also offered grain and other help to alleviate famine thought to have killed as many as 2 million people since the mid-1990s.

"North Korea definitely still faces some difficulties," Wang said. "But we believe the country's hardworking and brave people will succeed in their efforts."

China fought alongside North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War. But ties cooled after Beijing infuriated the North by opening ties with South Korea in 1992.

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