Lee raises prospect of Korean summit

Tuesday 01 February 2011 18.37
Kim Jong-Il - North Korea urged by South Korea to seize chance to improve ties
Kim Jong-Il - North Korea urged by South Korea to seize chance to improve ties

South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak has urged North Korea to seize a 'good chance' to improve relations in upcoming military talks, and raised the possibility of a summit with leader Kim Jong-Il.

'We can hold a summit if necessary ... this is a good chance for North Korea,' he said in his first direct response to recent peace overtures from Pyongyang.

After weeks of high tensions following the North's deadly November artillery bombardment of a South Korean border island, the two sides agreed last month to the military dialogue.

They will hold preparatory talks between colonels on 8 February to set the date, place and agenda for a higher-level military meeting, possibly between defence ministers.

But Seoul said the high-level meeting would only go ahead if Pyongyang took responsibility for two attacks last year and promised no repetition.

Apart from the shelling of Yeonpyeong island, which killed four people including civilians, the South accuses the North of torpedoing a warship last March with the loss of 46 lives - a charge the North denies.

Mr Lee said he believed a 'strong response' to provocations could prevent any repetition and the North may now believe it did not have to take such actions.

'I have great expectations that this may be time for North Korea to change,' he said.

'If the North shows willingness for sincere dialogue instead of military provocations, we can hold inter-Korean dialogue, economic exchanges and talk about the six-party talks.'

The six-nation negotiations on the North's nuclear disarmament - grouping the two Koreas, China, the United States, Russia and Japan - have been stalled for more than two years.

The United States, South Korea and Japan say the North must improve cross-border ties before they can resume.

The two Koreas held summits in 2000 and 2007. But relations turned frosty after Lee came to power and ended a decade of near-unconditional aid to the impoverished and hunger-stricken communist state.