President Lee Myung-bak on Monday offered North Korea a "new era" in bilateral relations provided the Stalinist country shows it is sincere.
Six-party nuclear disarmament talks "could resume as soon as the North stops its nuclear activities," Lee said in a nationally televised New Year's address. "We are prepared to give the North the necessary assistance to remove its worries about security… and restore its economy."
Lee did not demand an apology for the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. But a senior presidential official later said Lee "didn't exempt the North from its responsibility to apologize. It's a message that anything the North wants will be possible once the peninsula is denuclearized. Through his New Year's address, he extended his hand to the North."
Another official said Lee suggested he would leave the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong issues "in the area of strategic ambiguity."
Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said, "We are going to watch how the North reacts while maintaining a flexible approach."
The North Korean regime in its regular New Year's editorial in the state papers earlier reaffirmed that it will not engage with the Lee Myung-bak administration.