North Korean leader Kim Jong Il repeatedly pushed for summit talks before his death in 2011 - but demanded US$10bn and huge shipments of food and fertiliser in return, South Korea's former president has said.
The revelation emerged in an autobiography by Lee Myung-bak due to be published next week.
The book says senior officials from the two Koreas made secret visits to the rival countries to explore summit possibilities in 2010, when two deadly attacks blamed on Pyongyang killed 50 South Koreans.
Mr Lee said a Pyongyang envoy who came south was later publicly executed after returning to the North.
The Koreas have held two summit talks in 2000 and 2007 since their division 70 years ago.
Mr Lee's book comes as both countries float the idea of a possible summit between Kim's son and current leader, Kim Jong Un, and Mr Lee's successor, President Park Geun-hye.
It would be the third such meeting since the two Koreas were divided 70 years ago, although chances seem low as the countries bicker over the terms for a meeting.
The first summit in 2000 prompted an era of co-operation between the rivals, but it also became a source of criticism in South Korea.
Conservatives said Seoul's then "sunshine policy" of providing generous economic aid to Pyongyang with few strings attached propped up the North's nuclear and missile development.
Mr Lee, a conservative who ended a decade of liberal rule in South Korea in 2008, halted such aid and refused to implement rapprochement projects signed in the second cross-border leader summit, in 2007.
His actions earned him public loathing in North Korea, where state media called him a "rat" and a "traitor".
He said in his book that the "sunshine policy" was tarnished because North Korea diverted aid to its nuclear and missile development and continued to stage provocations against South Korea.
Mr Lee, who severed as president from 2008-2013, saw tension spike sharply after his inauguration.
A soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist in North Korea in 2008, and North Korea staged long-range rocket and nuclear tests in 2009.
But Mr Lee said that in 2009 North Korea began proposing a summit meeting between him and Kim Jong Il.
The proposal came when senior North Korean officials visited Seoul to pay respects to late president Kim Dae-jung, who held the first-ever summit with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang and won a Nobel Peace prize for his efforts to reconcile with the North.
Those efforts were tarnished when a close associate of Kim Dae-jung was convicted in 2006 of pressuring the Hyundai conglomerate into sending 450 million dollars to North Korea shortly before the 2000 summit.
Mr Lee said one of the North Korean officials who visited Seoul, Kim Ki Nam, told him that Kim Jong Il had said it would not be difficult for the leaders of the two Koreas to meet again if agreements signed during the 2000 and 2007 summits were carried out.
Five days after the meeting, Mr Lee said North Korea called for a "considerable amount" of rice, fertiliser and other aid shipments in return for the summit.
On the sidelines of a regional conference in Beijing in October 2009, Mr Lee said Chinese premier Wen Jiabao told him that Kim Jong Il had sent a message that he wanted a summit.
Mr Lee said he was willing, but did not want to pay for the meeting and wanted the North's nuclear programme on the agenda.
Later in 2009, officials of the Koreas met secretly in Singapore and North Korea insisted on economic aid for a summit.
Mr Lee said the North later said it wanted 400,000 tons of rice, 300,000 tons of fertiliser, 100,000 tons of corn, asphalt pitch worth $100m and $10bn for the establishment of a development bank in North Korea.
Prospects for summit talks were further hurt after a South Korea-led international investigation blamed North Korea for torpedoing a South Korean warship and killing 46 sailors in March 2010.
The North launched an artillery strike on a South Korean island that killed four people in November of that year. The North has denied involvement in the ship sinking.
North Korea's state media did not immediately comment on the contents of Mr Lee's book.