The change of leadership in North Korea could mark a turning point in relations on the Korean peninsula. With South Korean parliamentary and presidential elections on the horizon, and a popular consensus that the government's previously hardline approach to Pyongyang has only resulted in heightened levels of confrontation, President Lee Myung-bak has signalled that he would be open to dialogue in an effort to promote 'peace and stability' despite the provocations of recent years.

The change of leadership in North Korea could mark a turning point in relations on the Korean peninsula. With South Korean parliamentary and presidential elections on the horizon, and a popular consensus that the government's previously hardline approach to Pyongyang has only resulted in heightened levels of confrontation, President Lee Myung-bak has signalled that he would be open to dialogue in an effort to promote 'peace and stability' despite the provocations of recent years.

Seoul offered its 'sympathy to the North Korean people' following the death on 17 December 2011 of Kim Jong-il, but did not go as far as issuing formal condolences. Its official statement was mainly concerned with maintaining stability in financial markets, urging citizens to go about their normal business regardless of any perceptions that the handover might result in a heightened security threat. The lack of official condolences from Seoul angered the North Koreans, who said that improving North–South relations was impossible while the Lee Myung-bak 'group of traitors stays in office'.

Seoul seems to have decided to avoid provoking Pyongyang during its difficult transition to the leadership of Kim Jong-un, who is in his late twenties, and to wait and see what the change of personnel will bring. As a concession to voters who feel that now is the time to adopt a more moderate approach to Pyongyang, the ruling conservative Grand National Party (GNP) announced on 30 January that it would remove from its platform a clause calling for political reform and human-rights improvements in North Korea.

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