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Sunday, 2 September, 2001, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
North Korea calls for new talks
South Korean solider on joint US-South Korean military exercise
Seoul is carrying out military exercises
North Korea should reopen talks with South Korea "as soon as possible", a powerful North Korean committee has said.

The semi-official Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland proposed in a radio address "that dialogue between North and South Korea reopen as soon as possible to open a wider road to reconciliation, unity and national unification".

The call comes a day before Chinese President Jiang Zemin begins a three-day visit to North Korea. He is expected to push Pyongyang towards dialogue with the South.

The South Korean Government welcomed the proposal. but added that it wanted to see a formal North Korean offer.

"We hope the offer will lead to the resumption of the deadlocked dialogue. But we have to wait for a formal North Korean proposal," a unification ministry official said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
The North has taken a hard line in recent months
The BBC's Caroline Gluck in Seoul says the offer could boost the South Korean Government, which is under pressure over its "sunshine policy" of engaging with the North.

The North Korean offer came as a surprise to international observers, after Pyongyang's hard line against the United States and the South in recent months.

In March, during a dispute with the US, the North broke off nine months of talks with Seoul.

The North Korean committee's message was addressed to the South Korean unification minister, who faces a no-confidence vote on Monday.

Unification Minister Lim Won-Dong has been heavily criticised following a visit of some 300 people from the South to the North two weeks ago which was seen as a propaganda coup for Pyongyang.

Historic summit

President Kim Dae-jung of the South and President Kim Jong-il of the North held a historic inter-Korean summit in June 2000, during which the two leaders promised to work towards a new era of peace on the peninsula.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung
Mr Kim's government is under pressure
The summit last year saw a flurry of activities, including meetings between hundreds of separated families, as well as cultural and economic links.

But exchanges between the two countries came to a standstill early this year, after the new US administration of George W Bush announced it was reviewing its stance towards North Korea.

North Korea said that a second summit would not go ahead until Washington completed its policy review.

It has also said talks would not be resumed if the US set conditions - a reference to Washington's warning that progress in bilateral relations would be blocked if the North lifted a moratorium on missile launches.

North and South Korea have technically been at war for more than half a century, as no peace treaty was signed at the end of their 1950-53 conflict.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"After months of stalemate came the surprise offer"
Aidan Foster-Carter, Korean analyst
"It's good that the North Koreans are offering to talk again"
See also:

01 Sep 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Life in the secret state
06 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
S Korea calls for new summit
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Seoul's fears over Bush
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bush rules out North Korea talks
22 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea threatens end to missile deal
13 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Kim Dae-jung: Korean peacemaker
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