Wed, 24 May 2000

Korean summit a path to regular talks

By Bill Tarrant

SEOUL (Reuters): The biggest achievement from the first summit between North and South Korean leaders is the face-to-face meeting itself and the prospect of more government-level meetings to come, analysts said on Tuesday.

Senior officials last week agreed on a framework for the historic June 12-14 summit in Pyongyang between President Kim Dae-jung and North Korea's enigmatic Kim jong-il that dances around delicate subjects and hints at compromises.

South Korea will soft pedal international concerns over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. North Korea will tone down its recurring demand for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South.

Famine-struck North Korea will concede Seoul's long-standing desire to hold reunions of families separated when war broke out on the peninsula a half-century ago, in exchange for badly needed aid and investment from the South.

A statement signed last week by the chief negotiators for the summit preparatory talks couched all this in ambiguous language that nevertheless contains the code words for a deal.

The two Korean leaders will discuss "ways of realizing national reconciliation, unity, exchange and cooperation and peace and reunification".

Read reconciliation, exchange and cooperation as reunions and aid; peace and reunification as international issues to be discussed in other forums.

Park Jong-chul, a director of the Korean Institute for National Unification, said Seoul thinks the issue of North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs should be handled in ongoing talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

By the same token, Seoul will tell North Korea that the deployment of some 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea is a matter between Seoul and Washington.

"The reason why North Korea accepted the meeting is that North Korea wanted economic cooperation in return for some concessions on meetings for separated families," Park said.

"Therefore, practically speaking, North and South Korea can reach agreement on economic cooperation and family reunions. These are the easiest issues to get agreements on," Park said.

The summit, in one sense, is the long-delayed realization of the late "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung's plan to meet former South Korean president Kim Young-sam.

Kim Il-sung died of a heart attack in July, 1994, in the midst of preparing for that meeting. He remains "eternal president" of North Korea and his son and successor Kim Jong-il has faithfully ruled in his father's name.

"Once again, it appears Kim Jong-il is being the filial son, following in the path that his father blazed for him," said one North Korean watcher in Seoul.

For South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, the summit is the climax of a lifelong mission to see a breakthrough in a Cold War stalemate that has persisted since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

U.S.-led United Nations forces fought Chinese-backed North Korea in that conflict. It ended in an armed truce that has yet to be replaced by a peace agreement, leaving the two Koreas armed to the teeth and technically still at war.

Don Oberdorfer, a former Washington Post correspondent and author of the book The Two Koreas, said if North Korea's summit motivation is aid and investment, that bodes well for a sustained relationship.

"A one-time meeting, followed by hostility, will not accomplish this aim," he wrote in The Korea Times.

"If major assistance is Kim Jong-il's objective, the chances are good that he is contemplating a continuing series of meetings with Kim Dae-jung and his successors..."