Roh had hotline to Pyongyang and used it often

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Roh had hotline to Pyongyang and used it often

The late President Roh Moo-hyun had a 24-hour Blue House hotline for direct calls to and from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, according to Kim Man-bok, former chief of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Kim revealed for the first time that former President Roh did not need a separate “back channel” to communicate with the North Korean leader thanks to this secretive leader-to-leader hotline that dated to the Kim Dae-jung administration.

“The Roh Moo-hyun administration, thanks to good inter-Korean relations resulting from the Kim Dae-jung government, had a private channel [of communication],” Kim told the Joong
Ang Ilbo and Korea JoongAng Daily. “Someone was seated in front of the phone 24 hours a day on both ends. On one end of the line was Kim Jong-il, and on our end was President Kim Dae-jung, followed by President Roh.”

“It was a real-time line,” Kim elaborated. “They could speak at any moment and talk about many things.”

And they did.

Kim said there were lots of interesting conversations exchanged that have not yet been disclosed. “That is why there was no need for any back channels” of communication between the two Koreas at the time, he explained.

Kim and Lee Jae-joung, former unification minister from 2006 to 2008, sat for an exclusive interview Wednesday at the JoongAng Ilbo headquarters in central Seoul ahead of the release of their book, “Roh Moo-hyun’s Korean Peninsula Peace Vision,” on the 2007 inter-Korean summit between Roh and Kim Jong-il. Baek Jong-cheon, a former chief presidential security adviser, is the third author.

They were considered key officials in the Roh government, which lasted from 2003 to 2009, and helped plan the second inter-Korean summit in October 2007.

In the beginning of the Kim Dae-jung administration, Seoul initially resorted to various unofficial channels to communicate with Pyongyang.

Takeshi Yoshida was a Korean-Japanese businessman and son of a close friend of North Korean founding leader Kim Il Sung and friends with his son and successor Kim Jong-il. As a senior official of a pro-North group of Koreans in Japan, he could freely visit the North and served as one such unofficial communication channel.

But that became unnecessary after an inter-Korean leaders’ hotline was established during the presidency of Kim Dae-jung from 1998 to 2003. The hotline was ended by the Lee Myung-bak administration, Kim said.

“It is very regrettable that the inter-Korean [leaders’] hotline disappeared,” Kim said. “Through that hotline, the North Korean side expressed a lot of complaints as well as explanations for misunderstandings.”

Currently, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification maintains a hotline with Pyongyang via the truce village of Panmunjom at the inter-Korean border.

The memoir-style book, which describes details of the leaders’ meeting and joint agreement, is set to be released Sunday, the eighth anniversary of the declaration of the advancement of South-North relations, peace and prosperity on Oct. 4, 2007.

The two North Korea experts believe progress in inter-Korean relations has grounded to a halt since the second leaders’ summit.

“There seems to be low likelihood of an inter-Korean leaders’ summit convening under the current [Park Geun-hye] administration,” former minister Lee said,

There have been two inter-Korean leaders’ summits, the first held in June 2000 and the second in October 2007.

The June 15 North-South Joint Declaration, adopted during the first summit in 2000 under Kim Dae-jung’s presidency, affirmed both countries’ commitment to advancing relations.

The peace declaration signed on Oct. 4, 2007, upheld the 2000 declaration and called for global discussions to replace the armistice that effectively ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The following are edited excerpts of the interview with former NIS Director Kim and former Unification Minister Lee:

Q. Why release this book now?

A. Kim: This book was initially meant to provide an analysis of the result of the second inter-Korean leaders’ summit, the Oct. 4 agreement. We thought the content is something that definitely should be referred to in order to untangle North and South Korean relations and since we are approaching the eighth anniversary of the agreement.

Lee: The timing fell into place coincidentally. The Park Geun-hye government needs to bring some sort of change to inter-Korean relations, and we wanted to spread the thought that such change needs to be based on the spirit of the June 15 North-South joint declaration and the Oct. 4 declaration.

Inter-Korean relations affect the international community, especially the North Korean nuclear issue.

Kim: The North Korean nuclear issue should 100 percent not be linked to that of inter-Korean relations. The issue cannot become an obstacle in inter-Korean relations. A dual strategy has to be employed, and when inter-Korean relations progress, the North Korean nuclear issue will definitely be resolved. Denuclearization [of Pyongyang] cannot become a prerequisite for North-South Korean relations.

How do you evaluate the Park administration’s North Korea policy?

Lee: I am not sure what the Park government’s North Korea policy is. Official and unofficial talks need to play complementary roles to enable a leaders’ summit. But I think the reunion of families [separated during the Korean War] can be a starting point to resolve inter-Korean relations.

Kim Jong-un is different from his father, Kim Jong-il.

Lee: We need to firstly recognize Kim Jong-un as himself and respect him. That is how we can start dialogue. We need to more broadly understand the North Korean ruling elite. In some ways, the top level of the internal structure did not change at all. Maeng Kyong-il, chief of the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, has been on the front lines for 20 years. Understanding Kim Jong-un is important, but it is more important to interpret this level of people’s thoughts.

Do you think there is a possibility of an inter-Korean leaders’ summit under the current government?

Kim: In the beginning of the Park Geun-hye government, I had expectations that things would work out well, but that is becoming more and more distant. President Park’s intention is extremely important, but officials involved with improving North-South relations need to read that intention. In the future, inter-Korean relations during the Park administration may be looked upon somewhat negatively.

Lee: Improving relations between North Korea and the U.S. is important, but I wonder if there will be any change until the U.S. presidential election.

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