Report: North Korean Leader to Visit South

Top Korean officials have agreed to arrange a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong II to South Korea next spring, a state news agency said.

The agreement was reached late today by Kim Yong Sun, a visiting envoy of the North Korean leader, and his South Korean counterpart, Lim Dong-won, Yonhap news agency said.

Separately, the two Koreas are expected to hold a first-ever meeting of defense ministers to discuss tension-easing measures late this month or early next month in Hong Kong, Yonhap said, citing unnamed government officials.

Seoul officials were not immediately available for comment. But they had earlier said Kim Jong Il was expected to visit South Korea next spring, at the latest.

Envoy Discusses Planned Spring Visit

The North’s envoy arrived in Seoul Monday via a direct air route from Pyongyang for a four-day visit to discuss the visit by Kim Jong Il and other issues.

Today, he flew to Cheju island off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula, which Kim Jong Il reportedly wanted to visit during his planned South Korea trip.

Kim Yong Sun and Lim, head of the National Intelligence Service and special adviser to South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, coordinated and sat in on the first-ever inter-Korea summit in June.

Kim Yong Sun plans to visit a steel mill and a historic city Wednesday. He will wind up his visit Thursday after paying a courtesy call on Kim Dae-jung.

Kim Jong Il promised to visit Seoul in return for Kim Dae-jung’s visit to Pyongyang in June.

Milestone in Korean Cold War

His visit to South Korea would mark another milestone in decades of Cold War relations between the two Koreas, which had been divided into the communist North and the pro-Western South in 1945.

The Koreas fought a three-year war in the early 1950s and have never signed a peace treaty. Their border is the world’s most heavily fortified, with nearly 2 million troops deployed on both sides.

Inter-Korea relations have warmed significantly since the June summit, during which their leaders pledged to put the past behind and work together for peace.

The Koreas have since stopped propaganda broadcasts against each other and reopened border liaison offices. They allowed 200 people to cross the border in August for temporary family reunions. Two more reunions are scheduled before the year’s end.

In early September, South Korea repatriated 63 convicted North Korean spies and guerrillas.

The Koreas also have agreed to reconnect a cross-border railway and let their athletes march together behind a unification flag during the opening ceremonies at the Sydney Olympics.