08/14/2007, 00.00
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Hopes and doubts ahead of intra-Korean summit

by Pino Cazzaniga
Pyongyang starts preliminary talks with Seoul in preparation for late August historic summit. But in South Korea there are doubts as well as hopes. At issue are the summit’s location, timing and agenda.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Preliminary talks between the two Koreas are taking place today ahead of the second intra-Korean summit announced by both the North and the South for August 28-30. In South Korea people are hopeful but many have doubts about what might come from summit between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The first official summit between the two Korean states, which are still technically at war, occurred on June 15, 2000, in Pyongyang. Kim Dae-jung, the father of the ‘Sunshine Policy,’ was then South Korean president. The second summit will also take place in Pyongyang.

In a joint statement the two Koreas announced that a peace treaty covering the Korean peninsula and the denuclearisation of the North were on the table. Many observers in South Korea and around the world were surprised.

The United States was informed only a few hours before the public announcement. Although surprised it responded diplomatically. “We have long welcomed and supported North-South dialogue and hope that this meeting will help promote peace and security on the Korean peninsula, fulfilling the goals of the six-party talks,” State Department spokesperson Joanne Moore said.

In South Korea many are apprehensive about the meeting. According to Japanese daily Asahi Shimbum, there is no sign of the euphoria that greeted news when the first summit was announced in 2000. Similarly, in an editorial The Korea Herald summarises fears people and politicians hold, highlighting what it considers the summit’s three main flaws—location, timing and agenda.

First is location. In 2000 Kim Jong-il had pledged that he would make a return visit to Seoul. Instead, the second summit is again taking place in Pyongyang and this is irking quite a few South Koreans.

Even though National Intelligence Service Chief Kim Man-bok told journalists that the North wanted to hold the summit in Pyongyang because it is a good place to welcome President Roh, for many the real reason to hold the summit in North Korean capital lies in the dear leader’s security fears and domestic propaganda. But President Roh is also party responsible for the choice since he stated that he was willing to meet Kim any time, anywhere.

According to Seo Jae-jin, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, North Korea wants to promote their dear leader's authority by inviting the South Korean president to their place.

Some experts have instead speculated that the North insisted on Pyongyang as the summit place due to Kim's bad health as the British newspaper Daily Telegraph reported in June.

South Korea’s main opposition party, the Grand National Party (GNP), is especially upset at the timing. Presidential elections are scheduled for December, and whilst the constitution does not allow Mr Roh to run again, the summit might give the ruling URI party a boost in the polls. URI is a staunch backer of the Sunshine Policy towards the North; by contrast, the GNP remains sceptical about its.

Critics are also concerned about what is on the summit’s agenda.

Despite misgivings of many, other South Koreans have a great deal of hope that something positive might come out of the event. They point to the fact that since the first summit in 2000, relations between the two Koreas have improved.

For President Roh the summit does not only represent a way to favour his party’s ambitions but corresponds to his belief that the unification of the peninsula can be achieved through gradual, multilayered steps. Economic co-operation is seen as the first stage in this process and will certainly be on the discussion table.

In a meeting with Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung, former President and Nobel Laureate Kim Dae-jung praised the second intra-Korean summit, hopeful that such summits might be held regularly, once a year.

As the architect of the ‘Sunshine Policy’ he told the minister that the upcoming summit in the North Korean capital might improve ties between the two Koreas because it is taking parallel to the six-nation talks on North Korea’s denuclearisation.

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