South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan met secretly in Seoul earlier this month with a senior North Korean Politburo member who is in charge of promoting reunification of the divided country, a major Japanese newspaper reported today.
Senior Japanese government officials said they had received similar but unconfirmed reports, as did the U.S. State Department in Washington. But a South Korean government spokesman later denounced the reports as "totally groundless" and said they could undermine an ongoing dialogue between north and south.
Such a meeting would mark the first high-level political contact between the two intensely hostile governments since secret emissaries were sent to each other's capitals in 1972. The Japanese officials and newspapers offered no word on the contents of the reported talks.
The reports come as the two sides are conducting lower-level negotiations on humanitarian issues, economic and sports cooperation and tension reduction on the Korean peninsula.
Chun has long called for a summit meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Il Sung, leading to speculation here that the reported Seoul talks could be the prelude to such a meeting.
The most detailed account came in a Washington-datelined story in the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. It identified the North Korean as Politburo member Ho Dam and said he secretly visited the South Korean capital from Sept. 4 to 6.
According to the newspaper, which cited "numerous reliable sources," Ho was accompanied by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Han Si Hai and three other North Koreans.
Ho conferred with Chun and with Chang Sei Dong, head of the National Security and Planning Agency, formerly known as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, the newspaper reported.
Ho stepped down as foreign minister in 1983 after 13 years. He remains a senior member of the North Korean ruling circle.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Takao Fujinami told journalists today that the Japanese government had received reports of such a visit but had not been able to confirm them. A senior Foreign Ministry official said the reports had come from several sources.