BERLIN – South Korea's president said Monday that he is prepared to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to an international nuclear security summit in Seoul next year — if Pyongyang first says that it will give up nuclear weapons.
President Lee Myung-Bak described his offer of an invitation to the previously planned summit as "a very good opportunity for North Korea."
Pyongyang "should certainly say beforehand that North Korea will give up nuclear weapons," said Lee, speaking through an interpreter. "If that is fulfilled, I am fully prepared to invite Kim Jong Il to the nuclear security summit that will take place on March 26."
Lee spoke after meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Germany. The summit in March is a follow-up to a gathering hosted by President Barack Obama last year in the U.S., which sought to win commitments to secure nuclear material.
Five nations — China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Russia — had been negotiating since 2003 to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and concessions. Pyongyang pulled out of the talks about two years ago.
After visiting North Korea last month, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Kim wants direct talks with South Korea's Lee.
A summit would be a major step toward smoothing over animosity fueled by last year's sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang and an artillery attack on a South Korean island.
A personal call from Kim is notable, though North Korea regularly pushes for the resumption of aid-for-nuclear-disarmament talks. It generally wants to return to the negotiating table without preconditions, however.