SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's president said Monday he was ready for dialogue with North Korea, though he vowed not to veer from the hard-line principles that have angered the communist state and strained ties over the past year.
Tension between the divided Koreas has intensified in recent weeks, with Pyongyang announcing it would scrap peace agreements with Seoul, warning of a war on the peninsula and reportedly preparing to test a missile capable of reaching the western United States.
"I am well aware of the fact there are some people that who are uneasy about North Korea's recent series of threats," President Lee Myung-bak said in a regular radio speech. "However, my fellow citizens, we don't have to worry about that too much."
Lee reiterated that his government is ready to sit down with North Korea for talks to reduce tension, though added he will stick to his basic policy and not be too hasty to achieve results.
"I believe what is particularly important in South-North ties is unwavering, unequivocal principles," Lee said.
Lee took office in February last year vowing that Seoul should not offer unconditional aid to its impoverished, nuclear-armed neighbor as his liberal predecessors did. In response, Pyongyang cut off all ties last year, halted cooperation on key joint projects and vilified Lee as "human scum."
Last week, South Korean and Japanese media reports said the North was moving a suspected long-range missile to its missile launch site, saying the test would be made within one to two months. Analysts said the North was trying to attract President Barack Obama's attention as he formulates his North Korea policy.
Separately, Gen. Walter L. Sharp, chief of the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, told reporters Monday that North Korea should quicken its efforts to dismantle its nuclear programs rather than focusing on ballistic missiles.
"We call on North Korea to stop provocations and act like a responsible country," Sharp said. He added that U.S. and South Korean forces "are prepared for any contingency and any instability in North Korea."