North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Yong Nam said today that South Korea had rebuffed North Korea's proposal for what would have been an inter-Korean meeting at the highest level since 1972.
Kim, expressing regret and "great surprise" at the development, said the meeting would have taken place in New York this week between North Korea's Vice President Park Sung Chul and South Korean Prime Minister Lho Shin Yong. Both leaders are here to participate in the 40th anniversary celebration of the United Nations.
Kim, who is a member of the ruling Politburo and a deputy prime minister, drew a distinction between the proposed New York "meeting" and official "high-level political talks" authorized to negotiate major agreements between the two Koreas.
The meeting in New York would have been more than a get-acquainted session, Kim said, and could have provided "one of the best opportunities" to discuss matters of mutual concern.
The South Korean Embassy had no comment on the North Korean statements. Earlier, a news dispatch quoted South Korean officials as denying that the South had asked for a meeting with the North in New York.
Kim said the North Korean Mission here had made contact with South Korean officials at the United Nations repeatedly about a meeting since Park, a special envoy of North Korean President Kim Il Sung, arrived here Oct. 12. Kim said the proposal was finally rejected Sunday by South Korean officials, who told his aides that there is "nothing special to be discussed."
In 1972, high-level South Korean officials met the North Korean president in Pyongyang to inaugurate the North-South talks that lasted in one form or another for about two years. In a return visit, Park Sung Chul, the same high-ranking North Korean official now in New York, met in Seoul with then-president Park Chung Hee.
Surveying the current North-South talks on humanitarian, economic and parliamentary issues, which have intensified in recent months, the North Korean foreign minister said his government would "push forward powerfully" toward agreements.
He gave no specifics, however, on compromises that might be accepted in the discussions between the two sides.
Kim applauded a possible granting of visas to two North Korean scholars who have been invited to participate in an academic conference in Washington this weekend. Organizers of the Mid-Atlantic Region Association of Asian Studies said the visas, if granted, would be the first to North Koreans who are not diplomats.
"I think it is a very welcome gesture made by the United States," said Kim. The visas reportedly are to be granted to the two scholars and one interpreter if the North Koeans provide U.S. authorities with the appropriate documents. One scholar is from Kim Il Sung University and the other is from the Academy of Social Sciences.
The North Korea foreign minister also appeared hopeful for results from a recent exchange of proposals between North Korea and U.S. military officials at Panmunjom about "tension-reducing measures" along the Demilitarized Zone.
A North Korean proposal in July was countered by a U.S. proposal Oct. 14. Although the ideas of the two sides were different, Kim called the dialogue a start and said Pyongyang hopes for "some practical measures" rather than "propaganda."