S. Korean president willing to meet North's leader on denuclearization

Negotiators from six nations prepare to resume talks in Beijing to discuss ways to verify North's recent declaration of its nuclear programs.

kim jong il 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
kim jong il 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said he is willing to meet North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il any time if it will help end the North's nuclear programs, news reports said Monday. Lee's comments came as the negotiators from six nations prepared to resume talks in Beijing - expected to start later this week - to discuss ways to verify the North's recent declaration of its nuclear programs. "I am ready to meet ... at any time," Lee said in an interview Sunday with the BBC and Japan's Kyodo news service. Former South Korean presidents have held summits with the North's reclusive leader Kim, but relations between the two countries turned sour when Lee - a pro-US conservative - took office in February with a pledge to get tough with Pyongyang. The North - which conducted its first nuclear test detonation in October 2006 - recently blew up the cooling tower at its Yongbyon reactor complex to demonstrate its commitment to abandoning nuclear weapons. The destruction came in response to US concessions to remove Pyongyang from terrorism and sanctions blacklists, after the North delivered a long-awaited declaration of its nuclear programs. Lee welcomed the North's declaration of its nuclear programs but urged the communist country to take more action to dismantle its nuclear programs. The six-party disarmament talks - which include the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan - were last held in October. North Korea said last week it will not take further steps to dismantle its nuclear program until the US and its other negotiating partners award fuel oil and political benefits promised under an aid-for-disarmament deal. The North Korean Foreign Ministry said it has disabled 80 percent of its main nuclear complex, but countries involved in six-nation disarmament talks have only made 40 percent of the energy shipments promised to the North. US officials have stressed that the North Korean declaration still needs to be verified and that the destruction of the cooling tower is only one small part of the process.