Second summit betrayed by lack of time

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Second summit betrayed by lack of time


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, left, greets South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, right, as Roh arrives in a plaza in front of the April 25 House of Culture on Oct. 2, 2007, to launch the three-day summit in Pyongyang. [MINISTRY OF UNIFICATION]

A summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be held today on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom. In a three-part series, the Korea JoongAng Daily will examine the landmark first and second inter-Korean summits, both held in Pyongyang, and the history of Panmunjom. The second part describes the second summit held between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in October 2007.

As President Moon Jae-in meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un today, many are talking about a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War, which Moon’s liberal predecessor and Kim’s father pursued together 11 years ago in the second summit between the leaders of the Koreas.

“The South and the North both recognize the need to end the current armistice regime and build a permanent peace regime,” read a declaration issued by Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il after the second inter-Korean summit in October 2007. “The South and the North have also agreed to work together to advance the matter of having the leaders of the three or four parties directly concerned to convene on the peninsula and declare an end to the war.”

The two Koreas are technically at war since 1953, as the three-year Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. The Korean War ended when an armistice agreement was signed trilaterally by the U.S.-led United Nations Command on behalf of South Korea, and the North Korean and Chinese militaries on July 27, 1953.

Although the summit in 2007 dealt with ending the state of war on the peninsula, developing the western coastal area of North Korea into a cooperative economic zone, building a railroad to connect the two Koreas and denuclearizing the North, those plans went south after Pyongyang conducted its second nuclear test in 2009 and left the six-party denuclearization talks.

President Moon, who was Roh’s chief of staff and right hand man in drafting the summit agenda in 2007, may be picking up after his liberal predecessor in his first face-to-face meeting with Kim today at the Peace House on the southern side of Panmunjom. Moon accompanied Roh to Pyongyang for the summit, but did not join the Roh-Kim meeting.

With a U.S.-North summit supposedly taking place in the next few weeks, the Blue House said it is hoping for a comprehensive nuclear deal from the back-to-back summits in which the North promises a denuclearization of the peninsula that is implemented in a series of steps. In return, Pyongyang is likely to demand that Washington wind up its economic sanctions and possibly work toward ending the 1950-53 Korean War through a peace treaty.

Here is a look at what happened in 2007.


South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and First lady Kwon Yang-sook cross the military demarcation line on foot on Oct. 2, 2007, to travel into Pyongyang and meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for the second inter-Korean summit. [MINISTRY OF UNIFICATION]

Improving U.S.-North ties

The announcement of the second summit to reprise the historic 2000 meeting came on Aug. 8, 2007. Both the Blue House and North Korea confirmed that the agreement to hold the summit was signed by the heads of the two countries’ intelligence agencies.

Improvement in the U.S.-North relations proved pivotal, according to the South’s Ministry of Unification.

“After the North agreed to take steps toward denuclearization on Feb. 13, 2006, U.S.-North relations were on track to a solution … and the 20th ministerial meeting between the two Koreas followed, from Feb. 27 to March 2 in 2007,” said the ministry in its Unification White Paper of 2008. “There was an increasing demand for the South and the North to work more on cooperating militarily, in addition to the economic and social cooperation outlined in the South-North Joint Declaration of 2000.”

The ministry said that after it contacted the North in July to arrange a meeting between National Intelligence Service (NIS) Chief Kim Man-bok and Kim Yang-gon, director of the United Front Department of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, the NIS chief flew to Pyongyang in early August.

Kim Man-bok flew back with a message from Kim Jong-il, who said, “Inter-Korean relations and the state of affairs in the region are improving and this is the most adequate time to host a summit,” and suggested to hold the summit in late August in Pyongyang.

The ministry said Roh agreed to Kim’s suggestion and the two Koreas signed an agreement on Aug. 5 to host the inter-Korean summit from the 28th to 30th of that month.

The date for the summit was readjusted to Oct. 2 to 4, after the North asked the South to postpone the summit because of floods in the North.

Kim’s cooler welcome

Roh, who had been calling for dialogue with the North for years, saw his dream come true when he and First lady Kwon Yang-sook crossed the military demarcation line on foot on Oct. 2, 2007.

“I am very excited today because I am going into North Korea on an important mission,” Roh said before crossing a thick, bright yellow stripe painted on the black asphalt for the occasion. “This forbidden line will gradually fade out,” he said of the demarcation line. “The barrier between the South and North will eventually crumble one day.”

Despite the excitement, the day was long on ceremony and short on substance.

Roh and Kwon were greeted on the other side by four North Korean dignitaries, including Choe Seung-chol, vice director of the United Front Department of the ruling Workers’ Party. Kim Jong-il was not there.

Roh, the first lady and 30 buses carrying about 300 South Koreans drove to Pyongyang on a highway linking the border town of Kaesong to the capital. When entering Pyongyang, the South Korean entourage was greeted by hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets in a choreographed gesture of welcome.

Kim met Roh at the April 25 House of Culture, the biggest performing arts center in Pyongyang.

Roh beamed as he walked toward Kim, who stood still in his trademark military-style khaki suit. Kim did not offer the warm smile that he gave to Roh’s predecessor seven years ago. Instead, there was a simple handshake.

“Glad to meet you,” Kim said.

“Glad to meet you,” Roh said in return.

Roh and Kim were not seen talking to each other again after their greeting, and the brief welcome ceremony ended as Roh drove away with the first lady to the state guest house.

It was quite a contrast from the first summit, seven years ago.

Kim made an unexpected appearance at Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport on June 13, 2000, applauding as his South Korean counterpart stepped out of his airplane. He could not wait in place for then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to approach, and took a few steps forward to greet him.

The two Kims chatted, smiling throughout their walk on the red carpet. Kim Jong-il then surprised everyone by getting in Kim Dae-jung’s limousine to ride to the state guest house instead of riding separately.

In 2000, Kim Jong-il spent 122 minutes greeting Kim Dae-jung, including the 57-minute unscheduled limousine ride together. His first encounter with Roh lasted just 12 minutes.

North Korea watchers at the time said Kim’s welcomes for the two Korean presidents may have differed based on age differences (Kim at the time was 65 and Roh 61; when Kim Dae-jung visited, Kim Jong-il was 16 years younger); Kim’s strategy to take the initiative for the summit; the possibility of Kim Jong-il being in poor health in 2007; or the fact that the South Korean government had made secret payments to the North to foster the 2000 summit.

Opening the North

The concept of a peace treaty took up a good amount of the dialogue between the two leaders, according to a transcript released by the NIS in 2013.

“After the summit with you, I hope to be able to announce to the world that the South and the North have begun to take the lead in negotiating for the peace regime,” Roh said, according to the transcript. “And I believe that if needed, we can meet with U.S. President George Bush to discuss together, as he suggested.”

“My perspective is that what we need most right now is a solution on the militarily hostile relations between the North and the South,” Kim said, according to the record. “And of course announcing the end to war cannot solve everything, but it will be a beginning of some sort … if we can meet at Kaesong or Mount Kumgang or somewhere near the demarcation line, with the parties involved in the Korean War, and announce together the end to the war, then I believe it will provide the basis for us to discuss the peace issue.”

As part of establishing peace on the peninsula, the two spoke of developing together the west coast of North Korea, including reaching an agreement to share a section of the sea near the border, where the exact location of the demarcation line on the water has long been disputed between the two.

According to the declaration issued by Kim and Roh after their two two-hour discussions in Pyongyang, the two Koreas agreed to create a “special peace and cooperation zone in the West Sea,” encompassing Haeju in the North, in a bid to proactively push ahead with the creation of a joint fishing zone and maritime peace zone. Civilian ships from North and South Korea would be allowed to pass through the Northern Limit Line, the de facto sea border between the two countries. It was also agreed that freight rail services would be opened between Munsan in the South and Bongdong in the North.

The joint declaration also committed the Koreas to finish the first-stage construction of the industrial complex in Kaesong and to initiate the second-phase. The complex, which at the time had more than 20 South Korean companies and employed about 15,000 North Korean workers, was to be built in three stages under an agreement signed at the first summit in 2000.

Some economists and businesspeople in the South hailed the accord as a possible initial step toward developing the entire western section of North Korea.

Denuclearization, on the other hand, was dealt with only briefly at the summit.

Roh told Kim, “The nuclear issue is not going to be solved outside of the six-party talks,” according to the NIS.

Second nuclear test

The summit that began with what seemed like the North’s efforts to denuclearize fell apart as it reneged on its pledges.

As promised by the two leaders, the prime ministers of the two Koreas met in Seoul in November 2007 to follow up on the summit agreements. But by February the next year, the liberal Roh administration was replaced by the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, cutting short the momentum for further follow-up on the agreements.

And before long, the North tested a nuclear weapon for the second time in 2009.

Facing mounting international criticism and sanctions, the North quit the six-party talks in 2009, and a year later, barraged the South with military provocations, attacking the South Korean warship Cheonan and killing 46 soldiers, and shelling Yeonpyeong Island, killing four people. Inter-Korean relations went into deadlock and so did the agreements from the 2007 summit.

The Lee administration put into effect that year the so-called May 24 ban on inter-Korean transactions. A hotline between the South’s NIS and the North’s United Front Department established after the 2000 summit was also disconnected during the Lee administration.

The North continued testing nuclear weapons, and by its fourth test in 2016, the conservative Park Geun-hye administration decided to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last remaining economic cooperation project between the two Koreas.

Sea border controversy

Though the summit’s agreements were either stillborn or curtailed, the summit itself continued to affect South Korean politics for years.

In discussing developing the West Sea into a South-North cooperative economic zone, Roh said something that ticked off some lawmakers.

“What if we take the water between the border claimed by the South and the border claimed by the North and turn it into a common fishing or peace zone?” Kim reportedly said according to the NIS transcript. “What is the South’s request regarding the West Sea issue?”

“I think the issue at hand should be about building a peace zone in the West Sea,” Roh said. “And there is no one in the South who will be against this idea … Our suggestion is, let us draw a new map for peace and economic cooperation … and I think the Northern Limit Line issue can be resolved within my term in office … [the border] has no basis in international law.”

The inter-Korean sea border was established in 1953 by U.S. General Mark Wayne Clark, the UN commander, at the end of the Korean War. Since then, the line has become the de facto sea border between the two Koreas. Pyongyang did not complain about the boundary until many years afterward.

Roh’s comments embroiled the ruling and opposition parties in a fierce battle during the presidential election of 2012 over whether he disavowed the South’s claim on the line.

Chung Moon-hun, a lawmaker of the Saenuri Party, predecessor of the Liberty Korea Party, said Roh in his conversation with Kim described the border as “a line unilaterally drawn by the United States, which wanted to conquer more territory” and that “South Korea won’t recognize the Northern Limit Line anymore and all the disputes surrounding the line will be resolved if the two Koreas carry out some joint fishing activities.”

Accusing Roh of disavowing the Northern Limit Line at the summit, the Saenuri Party labeled Moon “pro-Pyongyang” for his role in the summit and his closeness with Roh.

After the party leaked the NIS transcript, the agency released it officially in 2013, but it was not enough to settle the dispute on whether Roh disavowed the Northern Limit Line, as the ruling and opposition parties continued their tit-for-tat arguments, which froze the parliamentary process for months.


If there is one difference between Roh and Moon in approaching the summit, it may be the level of commitment on denuclearization.

“North Korea’s measures toward a nuclear freeze are an important decision toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said in a meeting with senior aides at the Blue House on Monday. “It sends a green light raising the chances of success of the inter-Korean and North-U.S. summits.

“If North Korea, from the starting point of a nuclear freeze, takes the path of complete dismantlement of its nuclear program, a bright future for North Korea will be guaranteed,” he said.

Roh took a different approach in 2007. He said he would rather not talk about it.

“To talk about the nuclear issue with Chairman Kim Jong-il would mean the same thing as trying to pick a fight with him,” Roh said in a press conference on Sept. 11, 2007.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was quoted by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency last week as saying the North will stop all nuclear and missile tests, “given that the work for mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets was finished as the whole processes of developing nuclear weapons were carried out in a scientific way and in regular sequence.”

Moon said Thursday that he believed Pyongyang intended to go after “complete denuclearization.”

But that’s also what the regime led many people to believe when it came to the negotiation table for denuclearization in both the 1990s and the 2000s.

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