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Intrigue rises on summit delay

Aug 20,2007
Following the announcement over the weekend that the inter-Korean summit has been postponed until Oct. 2 to 4, the debate started over the impact of the new timing.
Despite the Blue House’s explanation yesterday that Pyongyang was “forced to put off” President Roh Moo-hyun’s visit because North Korea has the “urgent task of recovering from heavy flood damage,” experts pointed to the fact that a number of major political events are on the horizon that may affect the summit.
For the South, postponing the summit is not a great loss. With the presidential election in December and the liberal bloc primary scheduled for early October, the Roh administration will have its hands full. A summit nearer to the poll date may also give the liberals a boost.
The political opposition said they were suspicious about the move to delay the summit.
“North Korea asked to delay the summit under the pretext of flood damage,” said Na Kyung-won, the Grand National Party spokeswoman. “But its real intentions are dubious. It seems that the postponement could be a political gambit designed to tip the presidential election in favor of the Roh-friendly camp.”
Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, said the inter-Korean summit is also a sure way for the North Korean leadership to appeal to their public for attention and solidarity.
“Why would the North Korean leadership hold this event when people are demoralized from the worst flooding ever? They would want to use it in time for the Oct. 10th anniversary of the Worker’s Party founding, to make the celebration as inspiring as possible,” Koh said, citing the biggest national holiday in the North.
August also may not have been the best month for a summit if the two countries were going to hold international attention.
The sixth round of six-party talks is planned for early September, followed by a six-party ministerial meeting. The upcoming summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is slated to be held in Sydney in early September and the UN General Assembly is coming up at the end of September also.
By waiting for the international meetings to conclude, the North can earn time for a strong negotiating hand when its people sit down face-to-face with the South.
But it may just be as simple as the floods. Kim Jong-il is reported to be stranded in Danchon, South Hamgyong, north of Pyongyang, because of heavy downpours since he left for the mining region at the end of July. Sources say that Kim never stays away from Pyongyang for more than two weeks, but it has been three weeks since he left.
A tunnel on a highway leading to Pyongyang from where he is staying has also collapsed, according to a Unification Ministry team that returned home a week late because of the rain.


By Lee Min-a Staff Writer/ Yeh Young-june JoongAng Ilbo [mina@joongang.co.kr]




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