Saying the Korean peninsula was at a turning point, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday urged North Korea to embrace a new era by using its new change of government head to transform Korean ties.
There should be a new opportunity amid changes and uncertainty. If North Korea shows its attitude of sincerity, a new era on the Korean peninsula can be opened, Lee said in his New Year speech, his first major policy speech since the Dec. 17 death of Kim Jong-Il. But as long as there continues to be a possibility of North Korean provocation, we will maintain a watertight defense posture. If any aggression occurs, we will strongly respond.
Last week, North Korea said it would never deal with Lee, a continuance of Kim Jong-Il's attitude by his son and successor, Kim Jong-Un; Lee offered Jong-Un the same nuclear weapons-for-aid bargain that Kim John-Il spent years rejecting, the Washington Post reported.
In fact, Kim Jong-Un has echoed his father with threats of revenge against Lee and his group of traitors.
Kim Jong-Un is expected to worsen inter-Korean relations as a distraction that will help his internal power building, said Yoon Deok Min, a professor of North Korean studies at South Korea's state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, Bloomberg reported.
Lee is trying to prevent another provocation by reassuring the North with a repeat of his conditional willingness to talk.
But the multi-party talks, which would include the United States, China, Japan and Russia, are contingent upon the North halting its nuclear activities, Lee said, adding that his government will not tolerate provocations by North Korea, which has twice tested two atomic devices since 2006. Moreover, in 2010, 50 South Koreans died in attacks blamed on the North.
I have expectations that this year will set a milestone for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, Lee said. We are ready to provide the necessary support to ease North Korea's security concerns and resuscitate its economy based on what will be agreed upon at the six-party talks.
Days before Kim Jong-Il's death, the North was nearing a reported deal to swap food aid for a freeze in its uranium enrichment program. While neighboring countries attempt to figure out how to handle North Korea's newly vulnerable leadership, that deal is on hold, the Washington Post wrote.
On Sunday, North Korea's New Year's message didn't include a reiteration of the country's harsh criticism of the U.S. and avoided mentioning its nuclear ambitions, a sign, some say, that the North may be willing to continue talks with Washington to win food aid.
According to the United Nations, almost three million of North Korea's 24 million citizens will need food assistance in 2012. The country has relied on handouts since the mid-1990s, when famine killed an estimated two million people.