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“My prerequisite to meet Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un has always been the same: If they have a genuine interest to sit down and engage in dialogue, to open up North Korea to improve the quality of life in North Korea,” said the South Korean leader, whose term in office ends in February.

Kim Jong-un succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il, as North Korea’s leader in January, several weeks after the father’s unexpected death in December.

South Korea’s intelligence service was criticized locally for lacking prior information about the elder Mr. Kim’s health, but no spy agency is thought to have penetrated the highly secretive corridors of North Korean power.

“There is a lot of analysis of what is going on in North Korea,” said Mr. Lee, a former chief executive officer for the automaker Hyundai and a former mayor of Seoul. “But we need time to have a fuller picture.”

Turning to the issue of security, Mr. Lee noted that the United States is “sympathetic” to South Korea’s hopes of acquiring a surface-to-surface missile with a range exceeding 186 miles.

The South’s current missile force is obligated by international treaty, and by agreements with the United States, to the range limitation.
Meanwhile, Seoul will host the two-day 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, beginning Monday.

More than 50 world leaders, including President Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will discuss how to make nuclear materials and facilities safe from accidents and terrorism.

Although proliferation is not on the summit agenda, North Korea is likely to dominate sideline discussions. Mr. Obama reportedly is planning to raise pressure on North Korea with Mr. Hu in bilateral discussions alongside the summit.

Mr. Lee talked to reporters from The Washington Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the Japanese daily newspaper Asahi and the South Korean daily Dong-A.