By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) - United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon insisted Thursday that the Koreas "must find the path back to dialogue," a day after arriving in his native South Korea.
Ban's call on Seoul and Pyongyang to engage in talks came during a speech at a forum on the southern island of Jeju.
While he acknowledged North Korea's recent "worrying actions," Ban offered to support reconciliation efforts.
"Good relations between the two Koreas are essential for lasting peace, not only on the Korean Peninsula but also throughout the region," he told the forum.
South Korea has spurned numerous offers of dialogue from the North over the last week, even after a key party congress in Pyongyang earlier this month signaled a sharp turn from weeks of aggressive threats and nuclear weapon provocations.
North Korea was hit by strengthened UN sanctions in March following its fourth ever nuclear test and subsequent rocket launch -- Seoul is insisting that its reclusive neighbor demonstrate a willingness to denuclearize as a condition for talks, echoing the position of its ally the United States.
The Koreas have intermittently attempted cooperation projects since holding a first presidential summit in 2000, but the peninsula remains tense and divided by a closely guarded border as a legacy of the unresolved 1950-53 Korean War.
Seoul's former foreign minister is being touted as a contender for next year's presidential election in the South -- and the 71-year-old did little to quell the speculation Wednesday when telling journalists that he would decide his future as a South Korean when his second term as UN secretary-general concludes at the end of this year.