The South Korean government chose to meet with North Korean officials in secret last month because it was "in a dilemma" over the North's attacks on the Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island last year, a government source said Thursday.
In public, Seoul has demanded a straightforward apology for the attacks, but it "is aware that this is hard for Pyongyang."
North Korea denied involvement in the Cheonan attack at the UN, as well as in a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Admitting them now would be a massive loss of face.
North Korea has only once apologized for any provocation, when it blamed a failed attack on Cheong Wa Dae in 1968 on a "rash act by some extremists."
The North is in urgent need of economic aid from the South in its efforts to establish leader Kim Jong-il's third son and heir Jong-un as his successor.
In other words, the attacks pose a dilemma for both Koreas. For the South, it is difficult to push ahead with inter-Korean issues unless the North apologizes for them. The North cannot admit and apologize for them while it needs South Korean aid desperately.
Lee Jo-won of Chungang University says that the South Korean government should simultaneously deal with the attacks and an inter-Korean summit. "Since only Kim Jong-il can resolve the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attack issues, the two leaders should meet and discuss them face to face."