Despite shelling, Lee open to North summitDespite a shelling exercise by the North in the Yellow Sea, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak again expressed his willingness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at any time to discuss the reclusive regime’s nuclear arms program.
“I am always ready to meet with Chairman Kim Jong-il,” Lee said in his interview with BBC, referring to the North Korean leader with his official title, the chairman of National Defense Commission. “But the meeting would have to be for fruitful dialogue and sufficient discussion about the North’s nuclear issues. We must have open minds for reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas. If the summit can be helpful for the Korean Peninsula’s peace and the settlement of the nuclear crisis, there is no reason for me not to meet him even within this year.”
The interview took place on Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, where Lee attended the World Economic Forum. The Blue House released the transcript of the interview yesterday.
Lee’s comments came as media speculation increased that an inter-Korean summit is being planned for this year. While there were reports about high-level contacts between the two Koreas in Singapore at the end of last year, the South Korean government has not confirmed or denied such contacts. The Blue House tried yesterday to downplay further media speculation. “What Lee said was a reiteration of his fundamental position that an inter-Korean summit is possible if conditions are met,” said Lee Dong-kwan, senior secretary for public affairs. “It has been Lee’s philosophy that he won’t just have the summit for a photo opportunity without a substantial outcome.”
The two liberal presidents of South Korea - Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun - traveled to Pyongyang during their terms in 2000 and 2007, respectively, and met with Kim. The two rounds of summits were focused on economic cooperation. The nuclear crisis was not addressed.
According to the transcript, Lee said the North’s latest barrage of gunfire near the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea constitutes an “inappropriate threat.” He said the North probably did so because it felt pressured to return to the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks or because it came up with a new strategy to sign a peace treaty to replace the current Korean War armistice.
“It may also be an attempt to pressure the South for inter-Korean dialogue,” Lee said. “No matter what the reasons are, it’s never a good idea.”
Lee said the North has kept its past tactic of stalling the international community’s efforts to end the country’s nuclear programs by pretending to engage in talks and seeking economic aid with no real intention to give up atomic weapons. “I, however, believe the North’s tactic will no longer be effective in the international community,” the president said.
Lee said he sees no immediate sign of the North’s collapse, although the South still needs to prepare for the worst scenario. Lee also defended Defense Minister Kim Tae-young’s comments that South Korea would launch a pre-emptive attack if the North prepared a nuclear attack.
By Ser Myo-ja [email@example.com]
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