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N.K.'s delegation to return home after voicing openness for talks with U.S

North Korea's high-level delegation led by a controversial official is set to return home Tuesday after it expressed the North's willingness to hold talks with the United States.

This photo, taken Feb. 25, 2018, shows Kim Yong-chol (C), a top North Korean party official in charge of inter-Korean affairs, visiting South Korea. (Yonhap)

This photo, taken Feb. 25, 2018, shows Kim Yong-chol (C), a top North Korean party official in charge of inter-Korean affairs, visiting South Korea. (Yonhap)

The eight-member delegation led by Kim Yong-chol, a top party official in charge of affairs with South Korea, is expected to cross the inter-Korean border around noon, an official at Seoul's unification ministry said.

The North's team arrived in the South on Sunday for a three-day visit to attend the closing ceremony of the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Kim said during his meeting with President Moon Jae-in on Sunday that the North has "enough" willingness for dialogue with the U.S., adding that an improvement in inter-Korean ties and North-U.S. relations needs to go together.

His trip coincided with a visit to Seoul by Ivanka Trump, the daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, but there was no interaction between the U.S. and the North on the occasion of the Olympics.

North Korea fired intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. last year, raising tensions with Washington, which has stated military options against the North are on the table.

After Kim's remarks were made public, the White House said the U.S. "will see" if the North's stated willingness for talks is a commitment to giving up its nuclear weapons program.

President Trump said Monday that talks with North Korea are possible only under the right conditions.

Kim's trip has been stirring up controversy among conservatives here, as he is accused of having orchestrated North Korea's sinking of a South Korean warship in March 2010. The attack left 46 South Korean sailors dead.

Apparently mindful of negative public sentiment, the government has kept a low-key stance in revealing details about the government's talks with the North's delegation.

The government limited access by the media to a hotel in eastern Seoul where Kim's delegation is staying. Government officials visited it for closed-door talks.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon had breakfast with Kim and his entourage earlier in the day, at which time they appreciated the successful holding of the PyeongChang Games as a Peace Olympics, according to the ministry.

They were joined by Suh Hoon, the chief of South Korea's spy agency, and Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung.

"The two Koreas agreed to continue efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula," the ministry said in a statement.

Further details about Kim's meeting with South Korean officials have not been made public.

President Moon hopes that better inter-Korean ties will pave the way for broader dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea over denuclearization.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gave "important" instructions to officials to come up with practical measures to improve inter-Korean ties, Pyongyang's state media said on Feb. 13.

Experts have speculated that Kim Yong-chol may deliver a surprising proposal to South Korea, such as the resumption of reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

In exchange for allowing the family reunions, North Korea currently demands that Seoul return 12 women who defected to the South en masse in 2016 after working at a restaurant in China.

"(The two Koreas) are in close consultations (over pending issues). There is no particular situation that poses problems," Vice Unification Minister Chun told reporters. Source from the Yonhap.

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