[REPORTER'S DIARY]Who's Got the Upper Hand Here?

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[REPORTER'S DIARY]Who's Got the Upper Hand Here?

"The statement by North Korea included nothing new, and we already expected the North's keynote address to be strongly worded," Rhee Bong-jo, a spokesman for the South Korean delegation to the sixth round of inter-Korean ministerial talks at Mount Geumgang, said Friday night.

Mr. Rhee belatedly confirmed that Kim Ryong-song, the North Korean chief delegate, criticized President Kim Dae-jung for asking foreign countries to cooperate in leading North Korea to reform and openness. In his keynote address, Mr. Kim denounced President Kim's remarks at last month's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai, and called it "lobbying activities" and a "grave challenge" to the North Korean regime.

The Seoul spokesman had a hard time that night trying to convince the press corps that the North Korean side's criticism was only a trivial matter. The South Korean delegation concealed the North's denunciation at a briefing directly after the first-day meeting. The North's state-run radio gave details.

A similar situation arose on Saturday after the second day's meeting. "We will accept more reunions of separated families only if the South takes its military off special alert by the end of this month," Kim Ryong-song said at that meeting. The South Korean delegation failed to inform the press of the North Korean deadline at a briefing after the meeting.

Considering the South Korean delegation's attitude about keeping the people informed of the negotiations at Mount Geumgang, we have doubts about the government's promise to adopt transparent and resolute North Korea policies. Seoul just overlooks Pyeongyang's denunciations and aggressive words.

The North Korean side criticized President Kim Dae-jung although it refrained from directly naming him. This is the first time the North has criticized Kim Dae-jung since he and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, met in June 2000 and said jointly that they would work for reconciliation. Seoul took no action against the denunciation; it simply overlooked it.

When Pyeongyang asked Seoul to donate electric power to the North during an inter-Korean conference on Sept. 5, the South Korean Ministry of Unification concealed the fact.

Considering those things, I recall the comment of an expert on inter-Korean negotiations. "If the South Korean government accepts Mount Geumgang as the meeting place, it could be taken in by North Korea's tricks," he said.

Regarding the special alert by the South Korean military after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States, North Korea says it cannot send a plane carrying separated family members because it is afraid that the plane would be hit by a missile. We suspect their real intent is to collect the unpaid fees for the Mount Geumgang tourism license and get donation of food and electric power.

The government accepted Mount Geumgang as the meeting place despite warnings by working-level officials. Next, the government may, overwhelmed by North Korea, lift the alert.

The government should set up clear principles and standards when it meets with North Korea.

The writer is a reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Young-jong

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