President Lee Myung-bak is signaling to North Korea that he would like to calm rising tension on the peninsula. In remarks on Monday, he repeated an offer to pursue a path towards peace with Pyongyang.
In a Memorial Day address, Lee called on North Korea to peacefully engage with the South. The president says North Korea should stop pursuing confrontation and conflict and, instead, pursue a path of peace and prosperity. In return, he promised South Korea would patiently continue to make sincere and consistent efforts for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations. They fought an inconclusive civil war for three years in the early 1950s and no peace treaty has ever been signed. The president, in his speech at the National Cemetery, made no mention of recent secret discussions between officials of the two countries.
North Korea last week revealed the clandestine talks, which took place in May in Beijing. Pyongyang alleged South Korean government officials begged and offered bribes to attempt to arrange a summit between leaders of the two countries.
South Korea's government has had little to say about the talks. But officials here deny they were attempting to arrange a summit, explaining rather they were trying to extract apologies from Pyongyang for two incidents last year that heightened tensions.
Lee also said the provocation in 2010 by North Korea prompted the South to strengthen its defenses. Seoul blames Pyongyang for the sinking in March last year of a South Korean naval warship in the West Sea. An international investigation concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang has repeatedly denied involvement.
In November, North Korea fired artillery shells on Yeonpyeong Island during South Korean military exercises, killing four people on the frontier island in the West Sea. The incidents put inter-Korean relations into a deeper chill.
Lee, since coming to office in 2008, broke with the tradition of his predecessors who attempted to engage with the communist North and provide the impoverished country with badly needed aid.
Lee has linked any aid to the North taking steps to get rid of its nuclear programs. In his Monday address, Lee also told his citizens that they should be prepared for re-unification with the North at any time. He called re-unification not a matter of choice but "a must" that should be pursued at any cost because it would lead to prosperity for all of the Korean people.
South Korea ranks about 15th globally in nominal gross domestic product. North Korea's centrally-planned economy, on the other hand is only a fraction of the South's. It is heavily dependent on trade with its only significant ally, China.