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(LEAD) N. Korea says leader has 'no problems' with health: Seoul minister

All Headlines 15:04 October 05, 2014

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- North Korea insists its leader Kim Jong-un has "no problems" with his health, South Korea's unification minister said Sunday, one day after a rare visit by North Korean high-ranking officials to the South.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae made the remarks after he met a delegation headed by Hwang Pyong-so, believed to be the second-most powerful man in the communist regime, on Saturday in the western port city of Incheon.

The delegation, which also included Choe Ryong-hae, the Workers' Party of Korea secretary, and Kim Yang-gon, who is in charge of Pyongyang's relations with Seoul, visited the South to attend the Asian Games' closing ceremony.

The North Korean leader has not made a public appearance for more than a month, raising speculation that he is battling serious health problems.

"I asked Kim about the health condition of the North Korean leader and Kim responded that there is no problem with his leader's health," Ryoo told a TV program aired by state-run broadcaster KBS.

Speculation has been rife that the leader in his early 30s may have a health problem as recent video footage released from the North has shown him walking with a limp. In a rare comment, the North's media said that he is "unwell."

"Given the tone of (Kim Yang-gon), there were remarks sufficient to think that the North's leader has no problems with his health," Ryoo added.

The unification minister said that Hwang had asked him to deliver a "heartfelt greeting" to South Korean President Park Geun-hye, but there was no specific message from the leader of the communist country.

President Park was willing to meet with the North's delegation, but the visitors courteously declined the offer, citing time constraints, according to Seoul officials.

North Korea also agreed Saturday to hold another round of high-level talks with South Korea in late October or early November.

The two sides had their first senior-level talks in February since the current leaderships came to power. In August, the South proposed a second round of talks, but the North rejected the offer, taking issue with Seoul's "hostile policy" toward Pyongyang.

Ryoo said that they shared the view that the two Koreas should seek to mend icy inter-Korean relations through various dialogue channels.

"I think that the (Saturday) talks paved the way for improving inter-Korean ties," he said.

The minister also said that there were no discussions on a possible inter-Korean summit.

"From now on, there could be various types of meetings as high-level contact among the two Koreas comes to be resumed," Ryoo noted. "Seoul is always open to dialogue with the North in terms of formality and content."


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