SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea's president pressed North Korea on Monday to take responsibility for two deadly attacks last year and to change its pattern of provocations if it wants to improve relations with the outside world.
President Lee Myung-bak also said he was open to meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Il for talks — but that North Korea must change its behavior and show sincerity first.
"North Korea has a good opportunity to change" its behavior," he said during a panel discussion televised live. "I have high hopes for a change."
Lee's appeal comes as the two Koreas negotiate on holding 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.
Tensions have been at one of the highest levels in decades since North Korea's artillery bombardment of a South Korean island in November killed four people.
The attack on a front-line civilian area — one of the gravest assaults by North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War — 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.
After weeks of threatening war, 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 two Koreas have not yet agreed on a date for preliminary talks.
Lee said North Korea must change its pattern of behavior — raising regional tensions with provocations and then seeking negotiations to wrest badly needed aid — 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.
Asked whether a summit with North Korea's leader was possible, Lee said: "Yes. I don't deny it. I'd hold a summit if necessary."
Before last year's attacks, the two Koreas reportedly pushed for a summit but failed to agree due to differences over North Korea's demand for food aid.Comment on this story
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 Korean War ended in a truce.
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.
Associated Press writer Haeran Hyun contributed to this report.