North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Yong Nam, responding to an appeal by President Reagan, said his country is willing to consider U.S. proposals for "confidence-building" security measures in the context of the three-way talks that North Korea proposed early this year.
Kim, who is making the first visit in seven years by a North Korean foriegn minister to the United Nations, made the statement in a 2 1/2 hour interview late yesterday.
The Reagan administration thus far has refused to accept Pyongyang's Jan. 10 proposal, delivered personally to Reagan by visiting Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, for the three-way talks involving North and South Korea and the United States.
Kim maintained, however, that the impetus for the tripartite talks came from Washington itself last September in a diplomatic message sent through a third country.
State Department sources said Kim evidently was referring to a U.S. message sent through China last September informing Pyongyang of the adoption of more relaxed rules for contacts on social occasions between U.S. and North Korean officials. This message, the sources said, reiterated a position going back to the Carter administration that the United States would be prepared to meet North Korea in any forum where South Korea is equally represented.
North Korea responded with the idea of tripartite talks in a message passed through the Chinese October 8, according to U.S. and South Korean sources. But the very next day a terrorist bombing in Rangoon, Burma, killed 17 visiting South Korean officials, including four Cabinet members. The bombing, which has been officially blamed on North Korea by the Burmese government, raised tensions between the two Koreas to a high level and set back the prospect of dialogue.
In the absence of direct diplomatic contacts between Washington and Pyongyang, most meassages have been transmitted through China. During Reagan's trip to Peking in April, Secretary of State George P. Shultz delivered a message intended for North Korea proposing "confidence-building measures" between North and South such as prior notification of military maneuvers and the exchange of observers for military exercises. Similar proposals had been previously advanced by South Korea and the U.N. Command at Panmunjom.
Reagan, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly Sept. 24, noted that "we have strongly backed" the confidence-building measures for the two Koreas and called them "an important first step toward peaceful reunification in the longer term."
The North Korean foreign minister, who was named to his post last Dec. 28 and who also serves as deputy premier, appeared to be reading from prepared notes in discussing Reagan's statement.
"I would like to clearly state that we are willing to consult and discuss the confidence-building measures rasied by Ronald Reagan in his United Nations speech, together with other peaceful issues, to threeway talks of our side, the United States and the South Korean side," Kim said through an interpreter.
He went on to reiterate that North Korea is willing to discuss in tripartite talks not only its own proposals but "other issues raised by the other participating side, if [they are] rational in relating to our national reunification."
The high-ranking North Korean, who is 57 and has been a full member of the ruling Politburo since 1980, has held no discussion with U.S. officials during his trip to New York, although he expressed willingness to have such contacts "in any forum at any time and in any place."
State Department sources said there would be no official contact with him because of the U.S. policy of ruling out bilateral dealings with North Korea in deference to South Korea. Nonetheless, officials said Kim's presence at the United Nations appeared to be a sign that North Korea is seeking to widen its political contacts and break out of the isolation that was deepened by the worldwide reaction to the Rangoon bombing.
Kim took a positive but cautious view of the recent North-South exchanges generated by the delivery of North Korean relief supplies to the South. He said the North's "main purpose and motive" was humanitarian and spoke guardedly about the political potential of the continuing exchanges through the Red Cross societies in Pyongyang and Seoul.
The North-South telephone hotline that apparently has been agreed to in the latest exchange is "strictly limited" to messages between the two Red Cross headquarters relating to "liason" matters such as future joint meetings, said Kim. He said it is his "personal" view that the hotline could be expanded to cover security and other issues "if necessary" and if full preparations for this are made.