Reaching the summitPresident Lee Myung-bak’s suggestion during an interview with the BBC of possible summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il within the year created quite a splash over the weekend. The presidential office scrambled to react, with spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye reportedly rendering her resignation after misquoting the president while other presidential aides attempted to play down the statements.
The commotion brought to light behind-the-scenes efforts to organize an inter-Korean summit meeting. We hope the two Korean leaders will indeed meet this year and make strides on imperative issues concerning nuclear weapons development, peace enforcement and economic exchange.
In the interview, Lee used his strongest words yet on the issue. He said the summit talks should offer the grounds for “sufficient discussions on the nuclear issue” and that there should not be any conditions attached to the meeting. He added he is ready to meet the North Korean leader anytime, displaying unprecedented willingness for a summit meeting.
Inter-Korean relations have chilled conspicuously since President Lee took office. Pyongyang turned hostile toward the incumbent government, which veered away from past tactics encouraging generous and all-engaging policies towards the North. The cooling period was inevitable. But the two-year stalemate needs to thaw at some time.
It was an opportune moment for the president to initiate a summit meeting, as the North is looking to return to the six-nation framework devoted to ending the country’s nuclear program.
Two past summit meetings between the Koreas have produced accomplishments as well as setbacks. President Kim Dae-jung came under fire for over-rewarding Pyongyang for agreeing to the first-ever summit, while President Roh Moo-hyun was criticized for making promises he couldn’t keep.
Still, the fact that the two summit talks have helped bring the Koreas closer is undeniable. For top leaders to sit face-to-face and discuss pending issues itself is meaningful. It allows them to actively discuss the nuclear problem as well as humanitarian issues. But the two countries should not toil too much over the agenda and put the summit at risk because of pre-meeting disagreements. For a successful outcome, it is important for the two heads to meet unconditionally and focus on the future of their shared land.
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