[VIEWPOINT]A Roh-Kim summit meeting?Will a summit meeting between President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il be conducive to finding a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem? Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan was quoted by a Japanese economic daily, Nihon Keizai, as having told the paper in a recent interview: “I think it important that the North Korean nuclear problem find a way to a solution. If a South-North summit meeting is to be resumed, it is desirable that the meeting should be one that can help find a clue to the nuclear problem.”
Prime Minister Lee is discreet enough to put the solution of the North’s nuclear problem ahead of the inter-Korean summit meeting, but it is apparent that he is more interested in the summit meeting than the nuclear issue. In a way, Mr. Lee might have mentioned the nuclear issue to emphasize the necessity of promoting a Roh-Kim meeting.
There have been rumors about an inter-Korean summit meeting in the political community in the past months, especially in June, on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the historic South-North Summit Meeting in 2000.
Rumors circulated that former President Kim Dae-jung would visit Pyeongyang; that former director of the National Intelligence Service Lim Dong-won should be sent to Pyeongyang as a special envoy; that Jeju island or Mount Geumgang was likely to be the venue for the meeting; that the timing of the meeting could be October, and so forth. The specter of a Roh-Kim meeting is still lingering in the minds of key governing camp figures.
If it helps to solve the North Korean nuclear problem, all Korean people, not only Mr. Lee, would welcome such an inter-Korean summit meeting. It even sounds ideal that the leaders of both Koreas would meet and agree to sort out the nuclear standoff between North Korea and the United States.
It is not likely, however, that the North will change its negotiating tactics of a direct deal with Washington. Pyeongyang has long maintained that the nuclear issue should be resolved between Washington and Pyeongyang and denied Seoul’s role in the nuclear talks. For North Korea, a nuclear weapons development program is a vital insurance policy on which its regime’s survival hinges. The North knows well that its policy goals ― a guarantee of the regime’s security, the lifting of sanctions, economic assistance, including energy and finance, and diplomatic recognition ― are achievable only through direct negotiations with Washington. Moreover, the scope Seoul has in the nuclear issue is bound by its obligation to maintain close cooperation with the United States and Japan.
Therefore, Pyeongyang has been playing the cards of the nuclear issue and of inter-Korean cooperation in inverse proportion. When Washington increased pressure on it, it turned to the South and promoted inter-Korean projects.
In the first half of this year, various inter-Korean projects were promoted. In addition to frequent economic cooperation and ministerial meetings, there were two rounds of military talks. For the first time, the military authorities of both sides held meetings and agreed to dismantle all propaganda facilities installed inside the Demilitarized Zone and to operate hot line communication channels between the West Sea navy commands of both sides.
It was unimaginable only a few years back that the high-ranking military officers of the two Koreas would get together and agree on measures to ease tension and open communication channels. The two Koreas also accomplished such cooperation projects as reconnecting broken railways linking the North and the South, construction of a road linking both sides, dedication of the Gaeseong industrial park, and expansion of the Mount Geumgang tourism project by allowing travel by land and a one-day tour course.
Such exceptionally active inter-Korean cooperation and progress once led some in the South to think that the North had changed greatly and that the third round of six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear development program would make big strides.
The third round talks in June made progress, indeed. But it was not because the North had changed, but because Washington produced a new proposal.
Then came the typical “out of the blue” change in North Korean attitudes toward the South. Pyeongyang has not been responding to Seoul’s request to send representatives to the military talks, the 14th ministerial meeting and the 10th economic cooperation meeting that had been scheduled to take place in the past three weeks.
Pyeongyang blamed Seoul’s airlift of 468 North Korean defectors from a Southeast Asian country in July and its refusal to allow South Koreans to pay condolences on the 10th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death. But it is hard for us to understand how the defector issue and condolence call could be made excuses for stopping prescheduled inter-Korean meetings on ongoing cooperation projects.
We still don’t know the real reason. One thing is clear here: Pyeongyang is now busy dealing with the United States over the nuclear issue, and this is time for the North to strike a deal with Washington.
Oddly enough, Pyeongyang is busy with invectives against President George W. Bush and criticizing Washington for not abandoning its anti-North policy. Despite Beijing’s strenuous efforts to make the six-way talks a success, it seems that the North is refusing to attend a working-level meeting, where the list of North Korean nuclear facilities to be frozen would be decided, and even threatening to boycott the fourth plenary meeting this month.
What is wrong with the North? Are the invectives and accusations part of their negotiating tactics, or a signal that the North has decided to keep its nuclear weapons development program? We have to see.
In any case, it is not the right time to promote an inter-Korean summit meeting.
* The writer is the opinion page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo