South Korea says it wants to resume face-to-face talks with North Korea, despite Pyongyang's hard-line stance against Seoul since the death of its longtime leader Kim Jong Il.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said Thursday his government is ready to hold high-level talks with Pyongyang, saying "the ball is in North Korea's court now."
"We've already made it clear that we are open to dialogue with North Korea, so the ball is now in North Korea's court," he added.
Since Kim Jong Il's funeral last week, the North has not given any indication it is ready to re-engage with the South. Its state-run newspapers said improved relations are impossible as long as the government of President Lee Myung-bak stays in office.
But Foreign Minister Kim downplayed those comments on Thursday, saying the North has not yet decided on its posture in dealing with the outside world.
While South Korean officials did not say who would participate in the proposed dialogue sessions, South Korea's Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said he wants senior representatives from both parties to be involved.
"A certain level of representatives - who can discuss on behalf of the authorities responsibly - should attend the talks. Working-level talks are not good enough," he added.
Yu said his government must actively initiate dialogue with Pyongyang in order to maintain peace and stability between the two neighbors.
"Our active and leading role is required more than ever at this point, to have North Korea's new leadership make a good decision for the future and to have a stable and peaceful Korean peninsula that will lead to unification," said Yu.
Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said Thursday that better North-South relations were essential in improving ties between the North and the international community.
"We've made clear in our public statements, we've underscored it in our dialogue with North Korea and with our South Korean counterparts that we believe an essential component in an improving [U.S.] relationship with North Korea and the international community has to be an improvement in North-South relations," said Campbell.
He also called on China - North Korea's closest ally - to use its influence to "urge restraint" by North Korea's new leadership.
Campbell, who met with South Korean officials in Seoul Thursday, is on a four-day diplomatic tour that also includes stops in China and Japan.