North’s summit claims blindside Seoul, D.C.

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North’s summit claims blindside Seoul, D.C.

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Unification Minister Hyun In-taek answers questions from lawmakers yesterday during a hearing at the National Assembly. [YONHAP]

North Korea’s bombshell revelation of secret inter-Korean meetings has placed the South Korean government in lockdown mode, cutting off communication with the media aside from a statement made by the Ministry of Unification on Wednesday.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported on Wednesday that the two sides met several times in Beijing starting in early May, and that three South Korean officials allegedly “begged” and tried to bribe the North to apologize for last year’s military attacks and agree to three summit meetings between President Lee Myung-bak and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The Ministry of Unification in a statement Wednesday called the North’s disclosure a “great exaggeration” and denied that bribes were offered.

South Korean government offices and ministries have been scrambling to contain the fallout from the North Korean allegations, which, if true, would put the South’s tactics at odds with the Lee Myung-bak government’s official hard-line stance toward the North.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Blue House have each convened emergency meetings. The Ministry of Unification yesterday postponed indefinitely a scheduled media briefing by its policy bureau. Kim Chun-sig, the bureau’s director, was named in the North’s statement as one of the three officials who took part in the secret meetings. The other two were Kim Tae-hyo, deputy national security adviser to President Lee, and Hong Chang-hwa, a director of the National Intelligence Service.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, responding to lawmakers’ questions at the National Assembly in Seoul, said the meetings took place but not to arrange a summit, Yonhap reported.

“North Korea says our government made secret contact for the purpose of arranging summit meetings, but that’s putting the cart before the horse,” Hyun said.

“Our position is that inter-Korean relations can move forward only if North Korea takes responsibility for, apologizes for, and promises never to repeat such actions as the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. Only then will we be able to have dialogue, and these were [the responses] we were aiming for at the secret meetings.”

Government sources said Seoul appeared to be taking a cautious approach to Wednesday’s revelations, wary of undermining even further prospects for North-South talks.

A Unification Ministry official said that the KCNA’s disclosure of sensitive diplomatic talks was an unusual tactic by the North. “It seems as if something has happened on the inside of the North Korean regime,” the official said, although he did not elaborate.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner echoed the Ministry of Unification, which on Wednesday had said that the South had no need to respond to every North Korean statement and that divulging confidential talks undermined inter-Korean relations.

“I would just say that it’s more of the same we’re hearing, more of the same rhetoric that we’ve heard before from North Korea, and it’s not getting us any closer to improving those North-South relations,” said Toner in a press briefing yesterday. “We’ve been pretty consistent about saying that North Korea needs to improve North-South relations and demonstrate a change in behavior before we can move forward.”

If the South Korean government’s assertion that it neither bribed nor offered summit dates to the North proves true, it would indicate a departure in Seoul’s method of talking with the North.

Past South Korean administrations were said to have sent close aides of the president and wired large sums of money to North Korean officials in order to arrange presidential summits, according to intelligence officials. But the KCNA statement revealed that the Lee Myung-bak administration sent three officials directly related to inter-Korean affairs: a Blue House official on North Korean affairs, an official who has hands-on experience dealing with North Korea and an intelligence official.

A former high-ranking government official said the current administration has been “amateurish” in dealing with North Korea, citing President Lee’s bungled invitation to Kim Jong-il to attend next year’s Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.

“In the case of presidential declarations, around 70 percent of the message is usually delivered to the North beforehand,” said the source.

North Korea was likely been flustered by the South’s announcement, which came with no prior warning, the source said, causing the North to reject the offer and Lee’s invitation to backfire.


By Christine Kim, Lee Young-jong [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [연합]

현인택 “남북 비공개접촉은 사실”

‘천안함ㆍ연평도 도발 北의 시인ㆍ사과 받기 위한 목적’

현인택 통일부 장관은 2일 북한의 `남북비밀접촉` 주장과 관련해 "비공개 접촉은 사실"이라며 "천안함ㆍ연평도 포격도발에 대해 북한으로부터 분명한 시인ㆍ사과ㆍ재발방지 약속을 받아내기 위한 것이 이번 접촉의 핵심 내용"이라고 밝혔다.

현 장관은 이날 국회 정치 분야 대정부질문에 출석해 민주당 이석현 의원으로부터 질문을 받고 이같이 밝히면서 "우리 정부가 (남북)정상회담을 하기 위해 비공개 접촉을 했다고 북한이 얘기했으나 본말이 전도된 얘기"라고 말했다.

그는 비공개접촉에 대해 "녹취록은 없다"면서 "내년 4월 총선을 앞두고 3월 회담을 제안했느냐"는 질문에도 "정치적 고려나 목적을 갖고 북한과 비공개접촉을 하지 않는다"고 말했다.

현 장관은 "우리는 천안함과 연평도 문제에서 북한으로부터 확실한 시인, 사과, 재발방지 약속을 받아야 남북관계가 기본적으로 풀리고, 그래야 대화로 갈 수 있다는 입장"이라며 "이번 비공개접촉에서도 그것을 받아내려고 한 것"이라고 강조했다.

그러면서 "북한이 이런 것을 가지고 폭로성 반응을 보이는 것은 남북관계 기본을 해치고, 있어서도 안되고 있을 수도 없는 일"이라고 비판했다.

한편 이귀남 법무장관은 캐나다로 도피 중인 부산저축은행 로비스트 박태규씨의 신상을 묻는 질문에 "구체적인 수사 상황에 대해 말씀드리기 적절치 않다"며 "검찰은 지휘고하를 막론하고 법과 원칙에 따라 철저히 수사하고 있다"고 즉답을 피했다.

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