updated 8/23/2009 11:12:00 PM ET 2009-08-24T03:12:00

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has sent word that he wants to hold a summit with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in the latest sign of easing tensions between the divided nations, news reports said Monday.

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Kim's envoy proposed the summit during a rare meeting Sunday, and Lee told the envoy that he would be open to a summit if it is discuss North Korea's nuclear program, the South's mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo daily reported, citing an unidentified government official.

Another leading newspaper, the JoongAng Ilbo, carried a similar report.

However, the South's presidential Blue House denied the reports, saying that Lee and the North's envoy had general discussions on improving relations between the two sides, but that nothing related to a summit was mentioned.

North Korea has significantly softened its stance toward the South in recent weeks, freeing a South Korean worker held there for more than four months, agreeing to lift restrictions on border crossings and pledging to resume suspended joint projects and the reunion of families separated during the Korean War.

Paying respects for late South Korean president
The North's envoy, senior ruling Workers' Party official Kim Ki Nam, visited Seoul from Friday until Sunday, leading a four-member delegation to pay Pyongyang's official respect for late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. The team also included Pyongyang's spy chief, Kim Yang Gon.

They were the first North Korean officials to visit the South since the conservative Lee took office early last year with a pledge to get tough with the communist neighbor and put a stop to unconditional aid. Lee's hard-line stance angered the North, prompting it to suspend reconciliation talks and major joint projects.

Lee told the North's delegation that he is ready to help the impoverished neighbor rebuild its economy and asked his intentions be relayed to Kim Jong Il, the Chosun Ilbo said. Lee also told the delegation that the South does not want the North to collapse, the paper said.

Despite easing tensions, North Korea is still holding four South Korean fishermen seized late last month after their boat strayed into North Korean waters off the peninsula's east coast.

The North told the South on Monday that the crew were still under investigation, Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said. The spokesman also said Pyongyang has not yet responded to Seoul's offer to hold Red Cross talks this week to organize reunions of separated families.

The two Koreas are technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The sides had their first-ever summit in 2000 between then President Kim Dae-jung and the North's Kim Jong Il. The North's leader held a second summit with the South in 2007 with late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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