North Korea said UN chief Ban Ki-moon sent a personal message Thursday to Kim Jong-Il, as a diplomatic drive intensified to bring Pyongyang back to nuclear disarmament talks.
Kim "received a verbal personal message and a gift from the secretary general of the UN", the North's Korean Central News Agency reported.
It said the message was conveyed by UN under-secretary-general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe to Kim Yong-Nam, the communist state's official number two leader, but gave no details.
Pascoe, who is discussing nuclear issues and humanitarian affairs during a four-day visit to the North, is the first high-level UN visitor since 2004.
In Beijing, Chinese nuclear negotiators were meeting their North Korean counterparts for a third day but were reportedly making little headway.
The North quit the six-nation nuclear disarmament forum last April and defiantly staged its second atomic weapons test the following month, earning tougher United Nations sanctions.
It insists these should be lifted before the talks resume, and also wants an advance US commitment to hold talks about a permanent peace treaty.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the North was sticking to its guns in Beijing and resisting Chinese appeals to return to dialogue first and ease its tough terms.
China has hosted the six-party forum since 2003, which also includes South Korea, Japan, the United States and Russia, and is seen as the country with most influence on its neighbour.
Beijing is Pyongyang's only major formal ally, its main trade partner and its chief supplier of desperately needed food and oil.
The two sides were trying Thursday to narrow differences on economic assistance, Yonhap quoted a diplomatic source as saying.
A US-led United Nations force fought for the South and China backed the North in the 1950-53 war, which ended only in an armistice.
The North says it developed its atomic arsenal to deter US post-war aggression and there must be a formal peace pact before the nuclear programme can be scrapped.
But Japan and South Korea, reiterating the US position, told the North Thursday it should return unconditionally to talks.
The two countries "share the view that North Korea should first return to six-party talks and there should be practical progress in denuclearisation," South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan said after discussions with his Japanese counterpart Katsuya Okada.
China last Saturday sent senior communist party official Wang Jiarui to North Korea to try to coax it back to dialogue. He met leader Kim, who reaffirmed his commitment in principle to a nuclear-free Korea but appeared to give no assurances about returning to dialogue.
South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-Taek told a Seoul forum that Pyongyang's proposal for a peace treaty "is not a positive signal geared toward making progress" in denuclearisation.
"If we fail to create a breakthrough in resolving the North Korean nuclear conundrum in the near future, the political situation on the Korean peninsula will become extremely unstable," Hyun said.