SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's president pressed North Korea on Tuesday to change its pattern of provocations and take responsibility for two deadly attacks last year, saying that could lead to a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
President Lee Myung-bak's appeal came as the rival Koreas are to hold a preliminary meeting next week to lay the groundwork for high-level defense talks — the first in more than three years — to ease months of hostility on the Korean peninsula that have raised fears of war.
Lee said the North must use the talks as a chance to show it is serious about improving ties with the outside world and changing its pattern of raising regional tensions with provocations and then seeking negotiations to wrest badly needed aid.
"North Korea has a good opportunity to change" its behavior, Lee said during a panel discussion televised live. "I have high hopes for a change."
Asked whether a summit with North Korea's leader Kim was possible if the North demonstrates sincerity and that leads to bilateral and multilateral talks with North Korea, Lee said; "Yes. I don't deny it. I'd hold a summit if necessary."
Tensions on the peninsula sharply rose after the North's artillery barrage killed four people on a front-line South Korean island in November. The bombardment came eight months after the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang. The North has denied its involvement in the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.
Before last year's attacks, the two Koreas reportedly pushed for a summit but failed to agree due to differences over the impoverished North's demand for food aid. Lee has said in the past that he was willing, in principle, to meet Kim at any time if that would help foster peace on the Korean peninsula, which has remained in a technical state of war since the three-year Korean War ended in a truce in 1953.
The leaders of the two Koreas held their first-ever summit in 2000, with then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung traveling to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Il. The second summit was held in 2007 between then-President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim.
The North has pushed recently for talks with South Korea and the resumption of six-nation negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.
Last week, South Korea agreed to defense talks in what would be the rivals' first official contact since the November artillery barrage — the North's first attack on a civilian-area since the Korean War. Working-level officials of the Koreas are to meet at the border village of Panmunjom next Tuesday to discuss the agendas, a date and other details for the defense talks, Seoul's Defense Ministry said.
Lee said North Korea must change its pattern of behavior if it wants to improve ties with the South or see the resumption of nuclear-disarmament-for-aid negotiations.
"When (North Korea) has a position that it really intends to have genuine talks rather than armed provocation, we can have South-North Korea talks and economic exchanges, and discuss the six-party talks," Lee said.
Associated Press writer Haeran Hyun contributed to this report.