Put an end to the dispute

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Put an end to the dispute

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il held a landmark summit in October 2007. The meeting is now dominating the political scene with less than two months left until the presidential election. The ruling Saenuri Party claims then-President Roh had been overly generous about revising the western maritime border in order to reach an agreement with North Korea regarding the creation of a special economic and joint fishing zone along the western coast. But whether the claim can be verified or backed by documents remains in question.

The issue of altering the Northern Limit Line - the de facto maritime border between South and North Korea - is crucial to national security. But politicians are wrangling over whether a document that recorded the closed conversation between the two leaders during the summit exists, or whether such a document should be made available to the public. A presidential election should be a contest about the visions of the country’s future. But candidates and parties are wasting precious time on the campaign trail disputing issues of the past.

There is only one solution to burying this and moving on. We need to look at the records. The public cannot decide on a future leader if politicians continue arguing about the existence of the record. It may be hard to disclose a confidential document involving national security and defense, but there may be various ways to go around the law.

The controversy is only building because parties and candidates are trying to exploit the incident for self-interest. One news outlet reported that there had been an original document and a recording of the dialogue and that the latter was scrapped at the orders of President Roh before he left office. Roh’s aides denied the president made such an order. The incumbent president’s office confirmed that it does not have the document. The National Archives refuses to confirm whether it has the transcript and demands a motion with a vote of approval from two-thirds of the National Assembly or a court warrant to agree to the request.

Former National Intelligence Service head Kim Man-bok, who accompanied Roh to the summit, acknowledged that the NIS stored the transcript, but the agency refuses to confirm the comment. Saenuri Party Representative Chung Moon-hun, who made the claim first, also does not say where and how he saw the transcript. The National Assembly could put an end to the argument simply by agreeing to an investigation.

A confidential record on summit talks in principle should remain sealed. But presidential candidates who need to develop strategies and policies on North Korea have to know about any past agreements and deals on territorial and security issues. The National Assembly should quickly reach a consensus to address the issue and find out whether the document exists. Let’s put an end to the dispute.
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