North Korea has proposed 'unconditional and early' talks with South Korea to mend battered cross-border ties.

In an unusually conciliatory statement carried by its KCNA agency, Pyongyang said the communist nation 'courteously propose having wide-ranging dialogue and negotiations' with South Korea.

'In order to mend the north-south relations now at the lowest ebb we will conduct positive dialogue and negotiations ... be they authorities or civilians, ruling parties or opposition parties, progressives or conservatives,' said the statement.

It said Pyongyang is 'ready to meet anyone anytime anywhere' and called for 'unconditional and early opening of talks' among officials with 'real power and responsibility'.

The move from Pyongyang came two days after South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak reached out to the North, offering closer economic ties if it changes its course.

In his New Year policy address, delivered after Pyongyang called for improved relations in 2011, Lee said the door for talks was 'still open' if North Korea shows sincerity to mend ties.

Relations between the two Koreas were stretched to breaking point after the North shelled a South Korean island on the disputed border in November, killing four people, including two civilians.

The South has since staged a series of military exercises, including a live-fire drill on 20 December on the island, but the North did not follow through with threats of a new and deadlier attack.