South Korea's president and senior officials say a summit with North Korea may be possible this year. However, they are ruling out paying Pyongyang for the event, and say it would only be held as the result of serious steps toward ending the North's nuclear weapons.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told members of his Cabinet Tuesday his administration would never pay a price in exchange for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Mr. Lee told a broadcast interviewer earlier this week he would be willing to meet with the North Korean leader sometime this year. Media speculation of a possible summit has run high for weeks in South Korea.
The first inter-Korean summit in 2000 was later tarnished by revelations that former President Kim Dae-jung apparently arranged for half a billion dollars to be transferred to the North in exchange for the event. The Lee administration says it will not repeat that strategy, with cash or with aid such as fertilizer.
South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said Tuesday that any potential summit would depend heavily on the North's approach to abandoning its nuclear weapons.
Hyun says just talking about the desire to get rid of nuclear weapons at a summit would be meaningless. Instead, says Hyun, the summit would require "substantive and specific" progress on ending the North's nuclear programs.
North Korea conducted its second test of a nuclear weapon last May, triggering strict sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. Pyongyang has indicated it will not return to six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons capabilities until those sanctions were lifted.
Last week, North Korea alarmed the South by firing artillery shells into waters west of the peninsula, and unilaterally warning vessels to steer clear of what it calls a "no sail" zone.
However, this week, the two Koreas held talks on reviving a joint industrial venture in the North Korean city of Kaesong, and appear on track for negotiations on a stalled tourism zone. Hyun says that is cause for cautious optimism.
Hyun says he acknowledges the North is sending mixed signals. But he emphasizes that in the bigger picture, he feels certain North Korea is changing from a hard-line stance toward the South to a softer position.
Hyun is among senior South Korean officials scheduled to meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who arrives in Seoul late Tuesday to begin several days of consultations on Korean peninsula security issues.