N.Korea pledges to denuclearize in talks

( AP ) - North Korea's No. 2 leader pledged his country's commitment Thursday to giving up its nuclear program amid intensifying diplomacy aimed at implementing Pyongyang's pledge to disarm.

"The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the dying wish" of the country's late founding president Kim Il Sung, Kim Yong Nam said in Pyongyang during a visit from a high-level South Korean delegation.

The North "will make efforts to realize it," he said.

At the meeting, South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung pressed the North to implement a Feb. 13 pledge made with the U.S. and four other countries to take initial steps to disarm.

"It is important to make efforts to ensure that South and North Korea cooperate and six countries each assume their responsibilities," Lee said.

Kim Yong Nam also called on the Koreas to cooperate to achieve the reunification of the peninsula, which was divided in the wake of World War II and still remains technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire.

Kim also repeated the North's calls for inter-Korean collaboration, an idea South Korea has dismissed as a ploy to drive a wedge in Seoul's alliance with Washington.

This week's Cabinet-level talks between the North and South - the highest-level regular contact between the Koreas - are the first in seven months. The talks resumed after North Korea's agreement last month in Beijing to shut down its main nuclear reactor within 60 days in exchange for aid.

Earlier Thursday, North Korean negotiators appealed for aid from the South, but Seoul appeared resistant to promising any major assistance until Pyongyang keeps its pledge to start dismantling its nuclear program.

"The North side has brought up the issue of humanitarian aid," a South Korean official told reporters in Pyongyang, where talks between the two Koreas stretched into a third day.

But the official, indicating the South's reluctance to provide the North with badly needed supplies, said that a draft agreement between the two sides "does not specifically mention rice and fertilizer aid." The official did not give his name due to the sensitivity of the ongoing talks.

South Korea had regularly sent aid to the impoverished North until last July, when Pyongyang test-fired a series of missiles, prompting a halt in shipments. Relations between the two countries further soured after the North tested a nuclear weapon in October.

North Korea also has proposed that the two countries resume economic cooperation talks in March, but Seoul was apparently opposed to holding the talks so soon, according to pool reports.

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