North Korea can never be made to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak said Friday, arguing that only regime collapse could remove the threat from Pyongyang.
As the UN Security Council continues to debate how to punish the North for its latest nuclear test, the outgoing president suggested the best way forward was to try to foment unrest among the North Korean people.
"It has become impossible to have North Korea give up its nuclear weapons through dialogue and negotiations", Lee told a meeting of senior dignitaries including former government ministers and religious leaders.
"We cannot hope the North will part with its nuclear programmes until its regime changes or collapses", he said.
"We can help change the North Korean people, if not the North Korean regime itself."
Lee is set to leave office in 10 days at the end of a five-year term marked by an almost complete breakdown in contacts between Seoul and Pyongyang.
Lee had always promised to take a harder line than his predecessors, making continued aid to the impoverished North conditional on progress in talks on its nuclear programme.
His successor, president-elect Park Geun-Hye, campaigned on a policy of greater engagement with Pyongyang, but Tuesday's nuclear test will almost certainly see that policy shelved for months, if not longer.