By Na Jeong-ju
President Lee Myung-bak said Thursday there was little progress in inter-Korean relations in 2009, but his government has laid the groundwork for developing relations in a positive direction.
"We've seen a lot of changes in diplomatic, security and defense fields over the past year. The government worked successfully to brace for a paradigm shift," Lee said during a joint briefing by ministries on next year's defense and North Korea policies.
"There are few signs of improvement in inter-Korean relations, but I firmly believe we are moving in the right direction."
Lee has maintained a hard-line stance toward the reclusive country, saying the South will not resume inter-Korean exchanges unless the North drops its nuclear program.
"It will be hard to achieve a breakthrough in stalled inter-Korean relations without resolving the North Korean nuclear issue," Lee said at the meeting.
In September, President Lee proposed a "grand bargain" deal with North Korea to achieve a quick resolution of the nuclear issue in exchange for economic aid, which was immediately rejected by the North.
Lee said South Korea became a more responsible member of the international community in 2009 by winning the rights to host the G20 Summit, slated for November in Seoul.
The policy briefing was held at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. Lee became the first President to visit the institute since the late leader Park Chung-hee.
Thursday's meeting marked the last of the briefings by government offices on policy objectives for the new year.
The briefings had usually taken place at the beginning of the year under previous governments, but Lee hurried to finish the process before the year's end to ensure quick implementation of government spending programs.
"The government should keep in mind that Korea has not yet fully overcome the economic crisis," Lee said. "We must continue emergency programs at least until the second half of the year."