By AFPSouth Korea sees an opportunity for better relations with North Korea as its new leader takes power, President Lee Myung-Bak said Monday, while vowing to respond strongly to any provocations.
"Our biggest goal is the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula," President Lee Myung-Bak said in a televised New Year address. "We are leaving the window of opportunity open.
"We will be able to open the door for a new era in the Korean peninsula if North Korea shows sincerity."
North Korea has harshly criticised Lee since its longtime leader Kim Jong-Il died on December 17 and his son Jong-Un took power. On Friday its top decision-making body the National Defence Commission warned the world to expect no policy changes. It threatened retaliation against the South for perceived disrespect during the mourning period for Kim. The South "will thoroughly maintain national security as long as there is a possibility of provocation by the North", Lee said. "We will respond strongly if provoked."
The president said he expects "big changes" on the peninsula following Kim's death.
He said he hoped 2012 would be a turning point in years-long efforts to resolve the standoff over the North's nuclear weapons programmes. Six-party negotiations could resume as soon as Pyongyang halted its atomic activities, he said.
Cross-border ties have been icy since the South accused the North of torpedoing a warship in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives. The North denied involvement but killed four South Koreans in an artillery attack on a border island in November 2010. Since Jong-Un took over it has criticised Lee in extreme language.