The three North Korean delegates wave during the closing ceremony for 2014 Asian Games in Incheon on Saturday. (Yonhap)
North Korea agreed Saturday to hold another high-level talks with South Korea in late October or early November, as leader Kim Jong-un's top aides made a surprise visit here.
The North's military-party delegation was headed by Hwang Pyong-so, believed to be the second most powerful man in the communist regime. It also included Choe Ryong-hae, the Workers'
Party secretary, and Kim Yang-gon, who is in charge of Pyongyang's relations with Seoul.
They met with South Korea's national security adviser Kim Kwan-jin and other senior officials over lunch in Incheon, just west of Seoul. It was the highest-level meeting between South and North Korea in five years.
"In today's talks, the North said it would hold the second round of high-level contact, which we have proposed so far, between late October and early November," the unification ministry's spokesman, Lim Byeong-cheol, said.
The North said the meeting can be held at a time when the South wants, he added.
The two sides had the first senior-level talks in February since the launch of their current leadership. In August, the South offered the second round, but the North had rejected it, taking issue with Seoul's "hostile policy" toward Pyongyang.
The North's delegation arrived in Incheon Saturday morning ostensibly to attend the closing ceremony for the Incheon Asian Games later in the day. But its trip is widely expected to help thaw frosty inter-Korean ties and ease years of sharp military tensions on the peninsula.
President Park Geun-hye was willing to meet with the North's delegation, but the visitors courteously declined the offer, citing time constraints, according to Seoul officials.
The North's delegation plans to fly back to Pyongyang shortly after the closing ceremony, they added.
The North's delegation did not bring a personal letter from leader Kim Jong-un, but it delivered his verbal "messsage," a unification ministry official told reporters on background. He did not go into details.
Many agree that the North's dispatch of such a high-profile delegation indicates its desire to improve ties with the South, thus getting out of its deepening international isolation. The North is currently under U.N. sanctions for its defiant nuclear and missile tests.
South and North Korean delegates meet on Saturday. (Yonhap)
Kim Yang-gon, head of the United Front Department controlling Pyongyang's daily affairs on Seoul, openly said he came here with hopes that it will serve as a good opportunity for improving inter-Korean ties.
Experts took note of the posts the delegates hold in the communist regime.
"Hwang Pyong-so and Choe Ryong-hae are among closest aides to (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un. Kim Yang-gon is in charge of South-North relations," said Inje University professor Kim Yon-cheol.
Their visit here itself shows the North's willingness to improve inter-Korean relations, he added.
Hwang, vice marshal in the Korean People's Army, was recently made the director of the military's General Political Bureau, the top military position. He is widely viewed as the No. 2 man in the nation. He landed at Incheon International Airport in full military regalia.
Choe, who is a secretary of the WPK and head of the Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Committee, is said to still have influence despite stepping down from his post of vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.
Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at a Seoul National University institute, said their trip seems to be also aimed at congratulating the North's athletes for good performances at the Asian Games.
The North's young leader, Kim Jong-un. has a key policy of promoting sports, Chang said.
Pyongyang had sent a 273-member team to the Incheon games. (Yonhap)