SEOUL - North Korea said on Wednesday leader Kim Jong-il had sent condolences on the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, the latest sign of a possible easing in the chill between the rival Koreas.
Kim Dae-jung died on Tuesday at the age of 85. An extraordinary figure in South Korea's shift to democracy, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for a June 2000 summit with Kim Jong-il and efforts at reconciliation with the prickly North.
Though he passed away to our regret, the feats he performed to achieve national reconciliation and realize the desire for reunification will remain long with the nation, North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted the message as saying.
KCNA also issued a separate single-line dispatch saying that Kim Dae-jung had died.
Analysts said Kim's death could help improve ties between the Koreas, which have soured since President Lee Myung-bak took power in the South about 18 months ago and angered the impoverished North by cutting off a steady flow of aid it had seen since the 2000 summit.
Kim Dae-jung meant something to them and North Korea is likely to react and move in light of this news, Koh Yu-hwan of Dongguk University in Seoul said on Tuesday.
Yang Moo-jin of University of North Korean Studies said Pyongyang will likely send a delegation that could turn around recent hardened conditions between North and South Korea.
North Korean ruler Kim met the then-South Korean president at the airport when he arrived in June 2000 in Pyongyang for what was the first meeting of the leaders of the Koreas that are technically still at war.
The two held hands, shared smiles and sang traditional songs together in a summit that calmed tensions on the troubled peninsula.
The meeting was the culmination of the Sunshine Policy that won Kim Dae-jung the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize -- his idea of prodding the North forward with the promise of incentives and reducing the strain of eventual unification through economic integration.
North Korean leader Kim had high profile meetings this month with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, which resulted in the release of two jailed U.S. journalists, and the head of the powerful Hyundai Group, which is a major investor in the North.
That meeting helped win the release of a Hyundai worker detained since March and for calls to resume halted tourism of Southerners to the North as well as for the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease fire.
Analysts said the North's rare acts of conciliation may signal that it has stopped its recent round of provocations that included a May nuclear test as it looks for aid to prop up its economy that has been hit with U.N. sanction for its defiant actions.
(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Sanjeev Miglani)