By Cho Mee-young
SEOUL (Reuters) – The two Koreas met last week in secret in Singapore to discuss a summit, a broadcaster in the South said on Thursday, an encounter that follows Pyongyang’s bid to reach out to its rivals after being hit by U.N. sanctions.
The rival Koreas have had two summits in Pyongyang that led to large amounts of aid flowing to the North along with pledges from the South’s leaders to help rebuild their neighbor’s economy.
The South proposed holding the summit in Seoul, but the North declined due to concerns about bringing its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, across the border, an unidentified source told broadcaster KBS. Officials from the presidential Blue House were not immediately available for comment.
“North Korea requested this meeting,” the source said, adding the two sides may meet again in a third country.
A government official last weekend said North Korea had been seeking a summit with the South.
The North’s economy was dealt another blow by the U.N. sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in May with the aim of cutting off a vital source of cash from illicit arms sales.
President Lee Myung-bak, in office since February 2008, has said he is open for a summit provided it is tied to meaningful steps from Pyongyang to end its nuclear arms ambitions.
During a rare visit this month to the North, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao gave public support to leader Kim, who in turn signaled his state could return to six-way disarmament-for-aid nuclear talks his government once pronounced as “dead.”
The North has made a series of conciliatory gestures in recent months that have eased tension in north Asia, a region responsible for about one-sixth of the global economy.
The North had cut ties with Lee in anger at his halting of unconditional handouts and insistence that aid be linked to nuclear disarmament.
The South’s assistance was once equal to about 5 percent of the North’s annual economy. The two Koreas are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended with a cease fire and not a peace treaty.
North Korea, where agricultural mismanagement has caused chronic food shortages, requested at inter-Korean talks last week for Seoul to resume food aid.