South Korean envoy meets key aide to North Korean leader

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea ordered the U.N. nuclear agency to keep out of its business Monday, a scornful diatribe that came as top North and South Korean officials held cordial talks on resolving Pyongyang’s nuclear crisis.

Moving ahead with Seoul’s diplomatic offensive, South Korea’s presidential envoy met with a close confidant of reclusive North Korean President Kim Jong Il – and there was speculation that he and other envoys could meet with Kim himself in the coming days.

Pyongyang’s acceptance of the envoys could signal an easing of its refusal to allow third parties to help end the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which it insists is a matter between it and the United States.

The Southern delegation reported to the government in Seoul that the talks were “sincere,” while the North’s state-run news agency, KCNA, said discussions were held “in an atmosphere overflowing with compatriotic feelings and mutual understanding.”

Washington has supported Seoul’s efforts and has widely sought international intervention in the dispute. It also has pushed to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council, which could increase pressure on the impoverished North with sanctions.

But the U.N. nuclear agency indefinitely postponed a meeting of its 35-nation board to decide on Security Council intervention, at Seoul’s request. South Korea feared such a meeting would derail its current diplomatic trip by enraging Pyongyang.

The North has said it would consider U.N. sanctions an act of war, and on Monday, issued a diatribe against U.N. nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, calling him a “poor servant and mouthpiece” of the United States.