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August 24, 2009

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N. Korean delegation seen as icebreaker

A SENIOR North Korean delegation conveyed a message from leader Kim Jong Il to the South Korean president during a rare meeting yesterday in the latest sign of warming ties on the tense peninsula.

President Lee Myung-bak and three North Korean officials discussed inter-Korean cooperation during the half-hour meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, Lee spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.

He said the message from Kim Jong Il, conveyed verbally, addressed "progress on South-North Korean cooperation" but refused to provide further details.

The Blue House meeting, the first since Lee took office about 18 months ago, took place just hours before the funeral of Kim Dae-jung, the former South Korean president who met Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2000 for a historic Korean summit.

Kim Dae-jung's death prompted condolences from the North Korean leader, who sent the high-level delegation of six to pay their respects - the first time North Korea has sent officials to mourn a former South Korean president.

The delegation, led by senior Workers' Party official Kim Ki Nam and spy chief Kim Yang Gon, arrived last Friday and went straight to the mourning site at the National Assembly. They bowed before the late leader's portrait, burned incense and shook his sons' hands.

The North Korea delegation flew back to Pyongyang before Kim's funeral.

At the Blue House meeting, the North Korean delegation explained Kim Jong Il's thoughts on "progress on inter-Korean cooperation," Lee's spokesman said.

Lee, in response, detailed his government's "consistent and firm" policy on North Korea, and asked them to convey his comments to Kim Jon Il, the spokesman said.


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