South Korea's Lee Inches Closer to High-Level Talks with North Korea

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South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday he has 'high hopes for a change in attitude' from North Korea and implied that South Korea might consider significant aid for the North's dilapidated economy.

South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday he would deign to "hold a summit" with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il "if necessary" amid "high hopes for a change in attitude" after months of confrontation.

President Lee, in a lengthy television interview on the eve of the five-day lunar new year holiday, said North Korea must show its "seriousness" and stop "military provocations" - the type of remark that drew strong denunciations from Pyongyang earlier in his presidency.

This time, however, South Korea promptly followed up by agreeing on North Korea's proposal for preliminary "working level" talks next week between military officers. The talks, at the truce village of Panmunjom on the line between the two Koreas, would be the first since South and North Korean colonels met briefly on Sept. 30.

This time, the colonels, when they meet on Feb. 8, will have more to talk about. They will be preparing for crucial negotiations between defense ministers as requested by North Korea last month.

Lee's remarks implied that South Korea not only remained open to dialogue with the North, but might even consider significant aid for the North's dilapidated economy.

If North Korea "seeks sincere dialogue rather than military provocations," Lee said, "we can have dialogue and resume economic exchanges" - and also hold six-party talks.

View gallery: Who has nukes?

North Korea has been calling for renewal of six-party talks "without preconditions" for several weeks in an effort to tone down the level of confrontation engendered by its bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on Nov. 23. Two South Korean marines and two civilians died in that attack, which the North said was a defensive response to what it claimed were marine artillery exercises in its waters. North Korea has not said, however, if it's willing to negotiate an end to its nuclear program as agreed on Sept. 19, 2005, after the first round of the talks in Beijing.

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