Visiting U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday left open the possibility of running for the South Korean presidency after his term with the world body ends.
Ban arrived in his home country earlier Wednesday for a six-day visit that has fueled speculation he is considering a tilt at its top job.
"On January 1 next year, I will be back as a South Korean," the national news agency Yonhap quoted Ban as telling journalists in the southern island of Jeju.
"I will contemplate and decide then what I should do as a South Korean citizen and I may ask for your advice if necessary."
Yonhap said the remarks were the clearest indication yet that Ban was actively considering a presidential bid, although he stressed that he wanted to focus on his current job until his term ends at the end of this year.
Ban's schedule involves a number of international gatherings, including a peace forum in Jeju.
While he is not expected to hold any formal talks with political officials during his trip, his future has been the main topic of media coverage in the run-up to his arrival.
The soft-spoken 71-year-old will step down as U.N. chief a year before South Korea's presidential election in December 2017.
The ruling conservative Saenuri party, which suffered a shock defeat in parliamentary polls in April, has made it clear it would welcome Ban as its candidate.
Ban enjoys high popularity ratings in South Korea, where his position is a source of substantial national pride.
Speculation over his political ambitions has been making the rounds for years but Ban has studiously declined substantive comment.
Saenuri party officials have been less circumspect.
"The U.N. Secretary General is the world's president, and Ban is so experienced and well-connected with all the world's leaders after serving in the top U.N. job for 10 years," Saenuri Party lawmaker Ahn Hong-Joon said in a radio interview Wednesday.
"Now it's time for South Korea to put him to good use."
Not everyone is similarly enamored with the prospect of a Ban presidency. Some critics suggest his connections would throw up conflicts of interest.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-Soon, seen as a possible liberal candidate in 2017, said Ban should recuse himself from politics for several years after leaving the U.N.
"A U.N. chief can access a slew of confidential information about many countries and I think one can unfairly take advantage of the information when serving a particular country," Park said in a radio interview Wednesday.
A career diplomat, Ban never joined any South Korean political party, although he served as foreign minister under the late liberal president Roh Moo-Hyun from 2004 to 2006.
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