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August 18, 2017

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Seoul refuses comment on secret meet

SEOUL -- South Korea declined to comment Friday on news reports that it had a secret meeting with North Korea last week in Singapore to discuss a possible summit of their leaders.

South Korea's largest television network KBS reported Thursday night that a senior South Korean official met with North Korea's spy chief in Singapore last week and discussed a possible meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

The TV station, citing an unidentified source, said the talks ended without agreement as the South demanded that the reclusive Kim visit the South and the North balked at the demand citing security concerns.

The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report Friday.

"I have nothing to say," an official at the South's presidential Blue House said, when asked to confirm the reports.

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo also told reporters she could not confirm that a meeting took place.

Speculation about a secret meeting between the two Koreas has mounted since earlier this week when Kim Yang Gon, the North's spy chief in charge of ties with the South, was seen in Beijing on Tuesday. KBS said the North Korean official traveled to Singapore via Beijing.

Earlier this week, South Korea's second-largest TV network MBC reported that the North Korean official met with President Lee's brother and lawmaker Lee Sang-deuk either in Beijing or in another country. But the presidential office flatly denied the report.

North Korea's Kim Jong Il has held summits with the South twice, the first one in 2000 with the South's then President Kim Dae-jung and the other in 2007 with then President Roh Moo-hyun. Both summits took place in Pyongyang, though the North's leader promised at the 2000 summit to pay a return visit to the South.

Relations between the two Koreas frayed badly after conservative President Lee took office early last year with a pledge to get tough with Pyongyang. He linked aid for the impoverished neighbor to progress in international efforts to end the North's nuclear programs. In response, Pyongyang suspended reconciliation talks and most of their joint projects.

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