Summit talks broke down five times, says MB

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Summit talks broke down five times, says MB

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During the five years that Lee Myung-bak was president, North Korea made at least five proposals for an inter-Korean summit between him and leader Kim Jong-il, the former president said in a memoir scheduled to be published next month, the JoongAng Ilbo reported Thursday.

According to the unpublished manuscript obtained exclusively by the JoongAng Ilbo, the former North Korean leader offered to sit down for a summit with Lee through Chinese leaders or secretive contacts between the two Koreas. Lee turned down each proposal because the North demanded economic assistance in return, according to the manuscript.

In the memoir, Lee detailed his government’s interactions with the North in Chapter 5.

The first offer for a summit was made when the North sent a delegation to the funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung in Seoul, Lee wrote.

The delegation, including Kim Ki-nam, a secretary of the Workers’ Party, paid a visit to the Blue House on Aug. 23, 2009, and proposed a summit.

“Shortly after the delegation returned to the North, Kim Yang-gon, director of the party’s United Front Department, sent a follow-up message to then-Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Aug. 28 that the North wants a summit,” Lee wrote.

Lee’s government, however, rejected the proposal because the North demanded a significant amount of rice and fertilizer in return for the summit.

The North made another offer two months later.

“When the South Korea-China-Japan summit took place in Beijing on Oct. 10, 2009, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told me that he had met with Kim, and Kim was hoping to have an inter-Korean summit,” Lee said.

“But I asked Wen to relay a clear message to Kim that I wouldn’t be sitting down for a summit to win political popularity in the South.”

At the end of September 2009, the two Koreas held a secret meeting in Singapore. Yim Tae-hee, then the minister of labor and a key confidant of Lee’s, met with Kim Yang-gon of the North to discuss a summit.

At that time, Lee was attending the Asean+3 summit in Thailand. According to the memoir, Wen, once again, tried to arrange an inter-Korean summit.

In November 2009, the Ministry of Unification and the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party had meetings in Kaesong in which the North demanded that economic aid packages should be provided, saying they were promised earlier by Yim during the Singapore meeting. The North demanded 100,000 tons of maize, 400,000 tons of rice, 300,000 tons of fertilizer, $100 million for construction materials and another $10 billion in cash to fund the State Development Bank of the North. It presented a three-page document from the Singapore meeting. According to Lee, Yim denied that he had made the agreement with the North.

During the Kaesong contact in November 2009, Seoul again rejected Pyongyang’s demand. According to Lee, the discussion of an inter-Korean summit continued to take place even after the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March 2010, which Seoul blames on the North but the North has never admitted.

North Korea sent a message in June 2010 that it wanted to contact a senior intelligence official. A senior official from the National Intelligence Service visited the North in July to meet an influential official from the State Security Department.

During the visit, the South Korean official made clear that an apology for the sinking and a promise not to repeat a similar provocation were preconditions for a summit, Lee wrote.

“The North, however, insisted on the position that it, like all Korean people, were sorry that such an incident took place,” Lee wrote. “Later, it demanded 500,000 tons of rice in return for an apology and the promise to not repeat the provocation.”

Shortly after the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, 2010, a senior official from the State Security Department secretly visited Seoul, Lee said.

Accompanied by one senior colonel, one colonel and two liaison officers, the North Korean official strongly demanded to meet with President Lee, according to the memoir.

While the North Korean official claimed that he had a message from leader Kim Jong-il, he did not have a written letter and Lee did not meet with them. They had discussions with South Korean officials and eventually made some progress in arranging an inter-Korean summit. The visitors extended their stay in Seoul by an extra day to make more progress.

In early 2011, Lee was informed by the United States and China that the official from the State Security Department was publicly executed. “There were reports that he was executed on charges of leaking confidential information to the South,” Lee said. “I was also told that Kim Jong-il was furious because the official failed to meet with me in Seoul and did not immediately return to Pyongyang and stayed in the South one additional day.”

The memoir does not identify the North Korean official by name, but he appeared to be Ryu Kyong, a deputy director of the State Security Department and one of the closest aides to Kim Jong-il. Ryu was executed in early 2011.

When Lee’s term entered its fourth year, China tried to arrange a summit one more time. At the South Korea-China-Japan summit in Tokyo on May 22, 2011, Chinese Premier Wen once again urged Lee to “make a bold decision for a summit with Kim Jong-il.”

Three days later, Wen had a luncheon with the North Korean leader, who was visiting China. Kim canceled a later event to return to Pyongyang.

“There was intelligence that Kim went back after Wen informed him about my position and the North’s apology for torpedoing the Cheonan,” Lee wrote. “It ended the opportunity for me to have a summit with the North during my presidency.”

BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM AND SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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