SEOUL — The main U.S. envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue said in a message posted yesterday that he hopes to meet reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il — an unusual conciliatory gesture toward a man whom President Bush has labeled a tyrant.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill issued the statement as the two Koreas met in high-level reconciliation talks. Mr. Kim said earlier this month that he harbored no ill will toward Mr. Bush and would find him “interesting to talk to.”
“I’m more than willing to meet Chairman Kim Jong-il and hope to meet him,” Mr. Hill said in a message posted on a Web site run by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
Also yesterday, the State Department said Washington will provide 50,000 tons of food to North Korea in a humanitarian decision that the Bush administration said is unrelated to stalemated efforts to get Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program.
The two Koreas are set to hold a second day of talks today. At yesterday’s session, South Korea urged North Korea to end its yearlong boycott of nuclear disarmament, and the North repeated that it would not need nuclear weapons if Washington dropped its hostile policies.
“If the United States treats the North in a friendly manner, we will possess not one nuclear weapon,” the North delegation was quoted as saying by Kim Chun-shick, a spokesman for the South.
The North Korean leader told a visiting South Korean minister last week that the communist country could return to the arms talks as soon as next month if it gets appropriate respect from the United States. Washington dismissed the overture, saying Mr. Kim needs to set a date to rejoin the talks that last convened June 23, 2004.
The North declared in February that it had nuclear weapons and insisted that the nuclear standoff can be discussed only with the United States.
Yesterday, South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young also urged the North to make good on Mr. Kim’s pledge and rejoin the talks in July.
The Cabinet-level talks are the highest regular contact between the North and South, and this week’s session is the 15th since a landmark 2000 summit between their leaders. Contacts resumed last month after the North severed them for 10 months in anger over mass defections of its citizens to the South.
The sides have used the talks to foster economic ties and arrange reunions of families separated by the Korean border. These projects have largely continued despite the nuclear standoff.
The North also was expected to push the South to meet a request, made after Mr. Kim met Mr. Chung in Pyongyang last week, for 150,000 tons of fertilizer. South Korea already has sent 200,000 tons to the North this year to help support its agriculture, which fails to provide enough food for its people.
The North Koreans’ arrival Tuesday was disrupted briefly by activists who drove near their motorcade in vehicles adorned with banners condemning Mr. Kim.