North Korea on Wednesday said South Korea begged for talks between the two countries' leaders and offered "envelopes of cash," but that it rejected the proposal because Seoul leaked distorted information about a secret preparatory meeting.
South Korea quickly expressed regret over the North Korean statement, calling it a "unilateral claim that distorted our sincerity."
Animosity has continued between the Koreas since two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea last year. The North has denied involvement in the sinking of a warship in March that killed 46 South Korean sailors and argued that a November artillery barrage that killed four was provoked by South Korean firing drills.
An unidentified spokesman for North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission said senior officials from the two countries met in Beijing on May 9 to discuss possible summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the request of South Korea.
The spokesman said the meeting was arranged because South Korea had promised not to seek a North Korean apology for last year's violence. But he said South Korea instead called for the North to express at least regret before the summits could go forward.
He said South Korea proposed an initial summit at the border village of Panmunjom in late June, a second round of meetings in Pyongyang two months later and a third on the sidelines of an international nuclear summit set for next March in Seoul.
South Korean officials "begged us to understand their pitiful situation," saying Lee's term in office would be over soon, the North Korean spokesman said in comments carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. The South "even offered envelopes of cash unhesitatingly to lure us," the statement said.
Lee's five-year term ends in early 2013, and he is barred by law from seeking re-election. Kim Jong Il met Lee's two liberal predecessors in landmark summits in North Korea in 2000 and 2007, leading to a series of rapprochement projects that are now mostly stalled. Lee has taken a much tougher approach toward North Korea since taking office in 2008.
North Korea said it rejected the South Korean proposal because Seoul leaked and distorted information about the Beijing talks after asking that they be confidential.
The talks reportedly occurred on the same day that Lee announced in Berlin that he was willing to invite Kim to the March nuclear summit if Kim said he would give up his nuclear program.
Lee's office later told journalists in Seoul that South Korea conveyed its sincerity about the invitation to North Korea.
"They distorted information about the secret Beijing contact and first leaked them to the media to publicize traitor Lee Myung-bak's Berlin offer," the North Korean spokesman said. "We ... will no longer talk to the traitor group of Lee Myung-bak."
North Korea identified three South Korean officials who it said attended the Beijing meeting _ one from the presidential Blue House, another from the Unification Ministry and a third from the National Intelligence Service.
The Unification Ministry said the North's statement was "deeply regrettable" and would not help efforts to improve ties between the two Koreas.
It said South Korea still wants North Korea to take responsibility for last year's violence.
The two Koreas are still officially in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.