- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — A South Korean mourning delegation returned home Tuesday after meeting with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s next leader, who rapidly has gained prominence since the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-un’s brief meeting Monday with a group led by a former South Korean first lady and a prominent business leader showed Seoul that he is assured in his new role atop the country’s ruling structure.

The South Koreans also met with Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of North Korea’s parliament, according to footage from Associated Press Television News. He often represents the country and is considered a nominal head of state.

The sides agreed to push for the implementation of 2000 and 2007 summit agreements between the countries aimed at expanding economic cooperation, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said briefly. A spokesman for one of the delegations later confirmed that the summit deals, which would benefit the North financially, were discussed.

The lead delegates were the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who engineered a “sunshine” engagement policy with the North and held a landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband had ties to the North. North Korea sent delegations to Seoul when the women’s husbands died.

During Kim Jong-un’s meeting with the South Koreans, he thanked them after they expressed condolences and sympathy over his father’s death. Kim Jong-il died Dec. 17.

They stood on a red carpet and bowed silently at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where Kim Jong-il’s bier is surrounded by flowers and flanked by an honor guard, footage from APTN showed. Kim Jong-un and the two women later exchanged handshakes and clasped their hands when they spoke briefly. Their conversations were inaudible.

Mourning continued, meanwhile, despite frigid winter weather, in the final days before Kim Jong-il’s funeral on Wednesday.

People continued lining up in central Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Square, where a massive portrait that usually features Kim Il-sung has been replaced by one of Kim Jong-il, to bow before his smiling image and to lay funeral flowers. Heated buses stood by to give mourners a respite from the cold, and hot tea and water were distributed from beverage kiosks.

Associated Press writers Foster Klug, Hyung-jin Kim, Sam Kim and Jiyoung Won in Seoul and AP Korea Bureau Chief Jean H. Lee contributed to this report.



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