|Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik (L) and Unification Minister Hyun In-taek struggled with lawmakers' questions [Reuters]
South Korea has admitted it held a secret meeting with North Korea last month in Beijing, but it denied the North's claims that the aim was to propose and "beg" for summits.
Hyun In-taek, South Korea's unification minister, said at the National Assembly on Thursday that it is "true that private contact was made", but with the main goal of getting "recognition, apology and promise from North Korea that it won't carry out provocative shellings" against the South.
The North released a scathing blow-by-blow account on Wednesday of a secret meeting between officials of the two neighbouring Koreas, where the South "begged" and offered "envelopes of cash" for a series of three presidential summits over the next year.
An unidentified spokesman for North Korea's powerful National Defence Commission said that senior officials from both Koreas met in Beijing on May 9 for the secret meeting.
South Korean president Lee Myung-bak's "puppet regime" has repeatedly pleaded since April for a secret meeting to discuss possible talks to overcome recent deadly clashes and improve inter-Korean relations, the KCNA state news agency quoted the commission spokesman on Wednesday.
He named three South Korean officials from the presidential office, the intelligence service and the unification ministry who "humiliated themselves" in trying to "seduce" the North to agree to presidential summits.
The covert talks reportedly occurred on the same day that the South Korean president announced in Berlin, his willingness to invite his North Korean counterpart to the March 2012 nuclear summit if Kim Jong Il says he would give up his nuclear weapons program.
"If the Lee traitor group wills to improve inter-Korean relations, they should not have insulted us with such "Berlin offer" nor played theatrics by divulging information about the private meeting," he said.
"We will do all we can to ensure peace, unification and stability on the Korean peninsula but we will no longer deal with the Lee Myung-bak traitor regime," the North Korean spokesman said.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula are high after 46 South Korean sailors were killed in the sinking of a naval warship last March and four others dead in an artillery barrage last November on Yeonpyeong Island.
Seoul blames the North for both attacks. But Pyongyang denies responsibility for the ship sinking and maintains that the island shelling was a "fair act of self-defence" against Seoul's provocative firing drills.
According to the North Korean spokesman, the South Korean officials reportedly begged for a "concession" saying, "Please, let's put out a compromise that for the North isn't an apology and for the South looks like an apology".
South Korea proposed a series of three summits, the first to be held at the border village of Panmunjom, the second round two months later in Pyongyang and the third round during the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, he added.
In response the North maintained its stance that high-level summits could not take place under the South's conditional offer, demanding denuclearisation and an "apology" for the two incidents, the spokesman said.
In an attempt "to lure", the South Korean officials offered "envelopes of cash" and said, "At least express regret for the two incidents. Let's meet again in Malaysia and seal this matter, and let's push ahead with [these] summits," the commission spokesman said.
The South also requested secrecy over what was discussed at the meeting, he said.
'Door still open'
Hyun, the South's unification minister, the commission spokesman's statement harms "the basics of inter-Korean relations" and was something "that should not, could not and must not happen".
North Korea's statements "clearly run counter to wishes of the international community and absolutely do not help in securing peace and stability on the Korean peninsula", Cho Byung-je, South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman, said on Thursday.
However, "the door for dialogue" is still open if Pyongyang shows "sincerity" in resolving the nuclear issue and "genuinely" engages in inter-Korean talks, Cho added.