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South Korea's Lee offers talks with North

  • Story Highlights
  • Offer suggests softening of position by Lee, who'd promised tougher stance
  • Lee also offers to boost cross-border humanitarian aid
  • Six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program resumed Thursday
  • Lee's offer coincided with fatal shooting of S. Korean tourist by N. Korean soldier
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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Friday proposed reopening stalled reconciliation talks with North Korea in an address to the opening session of the National Assembly.

"Inter-Korean relations should transcend changeovers in administrations and be pursued from a future-oriented perspective for all the Korean people," Lee said, according to the Yonhap news agency.

The offer is an apparent softening of a position by the conservative Lee, who came into office in February promising a tougher stance toward the North than his liberal predecessor Roh Moo-Hyun.

"The highest priority of my administration's North Korea policy is to ensure the denuclearization of North Korea and in tandem, we will seek mutual benefit and co-prosperity of the two Koreas," Lee said.

The president also offered to boost cross-border humanitarian aid.

The address coincided with the deadly shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier at Mt. Keumgang, a popular mountain resort in the communist nation.

The 53-year-old woman was killed at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyun said.

She was believed to have been on a walk and went beyond the resort's boundaries when the North Korean soldiers were ordered to shoot, according to Hyundai Asan, the South Korean tour company that books trips there. Hyundai Asan cited North Korean authorities.

The tours to the North have been suspended for the time being.

The two countries have technically remained in a state of war since the Korean War ended in 1953, although relations have warmed somewhat in the last eight years. The Korean conflict ended in a truce, but no formal peace treaty was ever signed.

Leaders of the two nations held a historic summit in 2000, paving the way for the reunification of some families who were separated during the war. A second summit followed in October 2007, but concerns over North Korea's nuclear program have loomed over interactions between the two countries.

Pyongyang agreed last year to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid and better relations with the United States.

Six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program resumed Thursday afternoon in Beijing, China, after a nine-month hiatus. They're expected to focus on Pyongyang's recent nuclear declaration and how to verify the information included in it.

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