North Korean negotiators said Wednesday that leaders in Pyongyang were ready to resume direct talks with South Korea after a break of four years.

Li Gun, deputy head of North Korea's team at peace talks in Geneva and its ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters in an interview that Pyongyang was ready to talk to the South about the time, place and level of direct discussions."We are ready for direct inter-Korean dialogue. But we want it to take place on the Korean peninsula and not abroad," Li said.

"We have proposed the dialogue and now we are waiting for the South Korean response."

South Korean spokesman Oh Il Son said Seoul was waiting for more details.

"We do not know the exact context of North Korea's willingness. We have to clarify it. There have been various conditions in the past," he told reporters.

Direct talks between North and South Korea broke down after North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung died in 1994. Pyongyang accused Seoul of slandering him and failing to show respect.

There could be a great deal of wrangling before the talks resume.

This week's squabbling in four-party talks in Geneva over issues such as seating arrangements would suggest that any breakthrough will be the result of painstaking negotiations.

North Korean officials spoke of considerable differences to overcome in the tortuous effort to resolve the legacy of the 195053 Kor-ean War.

Li said it was unlikely any direct talks could take place within the next few months.

"It all depends on the atmosphere. Timing would be very sensitive," he said.

The Geneva talks, the second round of formal negotiations involving North and South Korea, and their respective allies China and the United States, have so far failed to produce a breakthrough.

But Wednesday, China's assistant foreign minister Chen Jian, whose country is chairing the talks, voiced hope.