South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called on North Korea’s new leader to seize the opportunity and return to dialogue, saying he was prepared to offer help to revive the North’s shattered economy if it suspends nuclear activities.
Two days after a state funeral for former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang sounded a bellicose note against the South on Friday, assailing Lee’s government for lacking the decency to mourn the death of a compatriot leader and vowing to continue a hardline policy.
The North’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, toured a major army tank division on Sunday in his first public activity as supreme commander, underlining that he would stick to his father’s songun, or military-first, policy.
“We have left the window of opportunity open,” Lee said in a New Year address broadcast from South Korea’s presidential Blue House. “If North Korea comes forward with sincerity, we will be able to open a new era for the Korean Peninsula together.”
“As soon as North Korea suspends nuclear activities in progress, six-party talks should be able to resume. Through a six-party agreement, we are prepared to ease the North’s security concern and provide necessary resources to revive its economy,” he added.
The six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the US, Japan, Russia and China, have been stalled since 2008 when the North walked away from an aid-for-disarmament deal.
Experts who study the North said it was unlikely it would take a dramatically different path under its new ruler, who at around 27 is believed to lack the experience or political support to initiate his own line of policy.
In a New Year message issued in its state newspapers that normally sets out policy for the year, the North made no mention of its nuclear programs, which had been the key source of regional security worry during Kim Jong-il’s reign.
The untested new leader is the third member of the Kim dynasty to rule, but he had only been groomed for power since 2009.