- diplomacy - Kim Jong-Il - North Korea - South Korea
AFP - North Korean envoys delivered a message from their leader Kim Jong-Il when they met South Korea's president Sunday, raising hopes of an end to high tensions which had sparked fears of military clashes.
Details of the verbal message were not disclosed.
But both sides at the first high-level North-South meeting since President Lee Myung-Bak took office 18 months ago expressed hopes for warmer ties after more than a year of deep hostility from Pyongyang.
"I'm leaving with good feelings," Kim Ki-Nam, a close aide to Kim Jong-Il, told reporters as he left for the airport later.
Relations have been icy since the conservative Seoul leader scrapped a "sunshine" aid and engagement policy towards the hardline communist state and linked economic assistance to nuclear disarmament.
Tensions with Seoul and the international community rose further after Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests this year, and tougher United Nations sanctions.
Military forces along the heavily-fortified border have been put on alert at various times.
Kim Jong-Il's message was "regarding progress in inter-Korean relations", said chief presidential spokesman Lee Dong-Kwan, declining to say more.
Lee "explained the consistent and firm principles of the government's North Korea policy and asked the North's delegation to relay them" to leader Kim, the spokesman told a briefing.
"If the South and the North genuinely try to resolve problems through dialogue, there will be no problems that cannot be resolved," he quoted the president as telling the visitors.
Kim Jong-Il sent the envoys to Seoul to join national mourning for former president Kim Dae-Jung, who pioneered the "sunshine" policy.
"The North's delegation expressed thanks for the meeting and expressed hope that the North and the South will cooperate and resolve all problems," the spokesman said.
The mood of the meeting was "sincere and gentle", he said.
"Everything went well," Kim Ki-Nam told reporters. The North Koreans flew home around noon (0300 GMT), before the start of the state funeral for Kim Dae-Jung.
Kim Ki-Nam is a secretary of the ruling communist party and frequently accompanies the leader on his trademark "field guidance" tours.
The North this month began making conciliatory moves towards the United States and US ally South Korea, after months of sabre-rattling that included scrapping the truce on the peninsula, test-firing missiles and staging a second nuclear test.
Washington is pushing for tough enforcement of UN sanctions designed to shut down the atomic and missile programmes.
The North for more than a year had made vitriolic attacks on Lee, terming him a "traitor" and a US sycophant.
"Times have changed. Legacies from the Cold War must be buried... I'll meet with everyone for frank talks," Kim Ki-Nam was quoted as saying during talks Saturday.
He was accompanied to the presidential Blue House meeting by Kim Yang-Gon, who is in charge of inter-Korean relations for Pyongyang, and another official.
The envoys Friday visited a shrine for Kim at parliament and laid a wreath from their leader. Kim Dae-Jung held the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.
The "sunshine" policy improved ties between two nations, which have remained technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict, but failed to stop the North's nuclear weapons drive.
Critics said it lavished aid on the North for no tangible benefits.
Early this month the North pardoned two US journalists jailed for an illegal border crossing after former president Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang.
The North has also freed a South Korean detainee and announced willingness to restart tourist trips and family reunions for South Koreans. It has lifted tough restrictions on border crossings imposed last December.
Diplomats from the North's United Nations mission held talks last week with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Some analysts believe the North feels pressured by the UN sanctions, which were supported even by its close ally China, and hopes to persuade Seoul to resume food shipments suspended under Lee's presidency.