N.Korea, S.Korea foreign ministers chat briefly in Manila

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho (front) walks toward an escalator during ongoing meetings at the Philippine International Convention Centre for the 50th Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting and Related Meetings in Manila, Philippines on Monday. (EPA photo)

MANILA -- The foreign ministers of North and South Korea held a rare but very brief meeting over the weekend on the sidelines of regional talks in Manila, a government source said Monday, amid strained inter-Korean relations.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, however, said on Sunday that Seoul's recent offer to resume dialogue between the two countries “lacks sincerity”, according to the South Korean government source.

Mr Ri made that comment following South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha's request for North Korea to respond to the offer, the source said.

Last month, South Korea's government proposed that the two countries hold dialogue on ways to defuse tensions along their heavily militarised border and restart reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Those overtures marked the first formal olive branch extended by South Korea since President Moon Jae In took office in May. They were made after North Korea carried out its first test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4.

But North Korea, which conducted its second ICBM test on July 28, has yet to give any official response to the proposals.

The South Korea government source said the brief one-to-one conversation happened in an impromptu manner Sunday night when the two ministers happened to be in the same waiting room of a gala dinner for top diplomats from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and nearly 20 other countries, also including China, Japan and the United States.

They shook hands as well, the source said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed the news of the brief encounter between Mr Kang and Mr Ri.

"I don't know what they discussed, but I support that," Mr Wang told reporters, adding he believes North Korea is not categorically rejecting the South Korean proposals.

Mr Wang said China is "looking forward" for an early realisation of inter-Korean dialogue.

China on Saturday backed the idea of the UN Security Council imposing additional sanctions on North Korea following the two long-range missile tests.

Still, China has long urged that putting more pressure on North Korea will not ease tensions. To achieve the goal of denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, it has been saying that it is more important for all sides to come back to the negotiating table.

As the international community tries to further isolate North Korea with the tougher sanctions that would slash its $3 billion in annual exports by a third, Mr Ri held talks with Mr Wang also on Sunday and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday in the Philippine capital.

The Chinese foreign minister told reporters that during the meeting Mr Ri reiterated North Korea's position on its weapons program.

North Korea has long claimed its efforts to develop nuclear arms and long-range missiles are defensive in nature and essential because of the threat it perceives from the militarily powerful United States.

A North Korean official traveling with Mr Ri said he also had talks with his Philippine counterpart Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday ahead an Asean Regional Forum meeting, at which Pyongyang's weapons program was high on the agenda.

As the Philippines is this year's Asean chair, Mr Cayetano met with Mr Ri and formally conveyed the regional bloc's opposition to North Korea's series of arms tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, according to Robespierre Bolivar, spokesman of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs.

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