SEOUL - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is willing to hold talks without preconditions on any issue, including direct talks with South Korea, former US President Jimmy Carter said at the end of a trip to Pyongyang to try to defuse tensions on the divided peninsula.
"He specifically told us he is prepared to meet directly with (South Korean) President Lee Myung-bak any time," Carter told a press conference in Seoul on Thursday.
If Kim was willing to discuss nuclear and other military issues with South Korea it would mark a change in policy -- the North has previously said it would only discuss them with the United States.
"Chairman and General Secretary Kim Jong-il said he is willing and the people of North Korea are willing to negotiate with South Korea or with the United States or with the six powers on any subject any time and without any preconditions."
Carter and three other former state leaders -- known as the Elders -- met the North's leaders in Pyongyang during a "private" visit in which they were also due to discuss the impoverished North's pleas for food aid.