The overture appeared by its timing and method of delivery to be more of a public-relations tactic than a genuine diplomatic invitation. Seoul rejected it out of hand.
"We think it is not a serious offer," said Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, which deals with the North.
Ms. Lee added South Korea wants North Korea to acknowledge its recent attacks, including the sinking of a warship and shelling of a civilian-inhabited island, that together resulted in the deaths of 50 South Koreans.
"We think it's time for North Korea to act, not just make some kind of rhetoric," she said.
The governments of the two Koreas have a formal means of communication through a daily exchange at military posts in the inter-Korean border, which is known as the demilitarized zone. After months of heightened tension, much of their routine conversation has been confined to the daily workings of a jointly run factory complex near the border.
North Korea has used that formal channel in recent months to arrange military meetings and logisitics for receiving aid donations and setting up reunions of separated Korean families.
The highest-level talks between the two countries, including summit meetings in 2000 and 2007, are usually set up after months of quiet negotiations between the two governments.
Wednesday's invitation came in a news story issued late at night by its state news agency. The story cited unnamed "government, political parties and organizations" as "courteously" proposing a "wide-ranging dialogue."
"We call for an unconditional and early opening of talks between the authorities having real power and responsibility, in particular," the statement said. It added, "We are willing to meet anyone anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones, if he or she is willing to go hands in hands with us."
North Korea in recent months has also offered through its media to talk to South Korea and the U.S. in the six-nation diplomatic process that has previously been focused on nuclear disarmament. Seoul and Washington have refused to let that process—which also involves China, Japan and Russia—to be expanded to issues not related to denuclearization.
Instead, South Korea and the U.S. have insisted that North Korea use regular diplomatic channels in communication and give assurances that sitting down at a table for talks won't be a waste of time.
Both countries have been looking for a way to resume formal discussions with North Korea. The U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, visited Seoul earlier Wednesday to coordinate outreach to Pyongyang.
He said the U.S. is ready for "serious negotiations." Asked afterward if the U.S. was putting pressure on South Korea to talk to Pyongyang, Mr. Bosworth said, "Never."