No Breakthrough Likely in Koreas Summit
Wednesday, August 8, 2007; 1:46 PM
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il will likely put on his best show for South Korea's visiting president, with thousands of enthusiastic supporters called out to line the streets of the capital to herald the second-ever summit between the two Koreas.
But when those cheers die down, the actual results from Kim's meeting with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun later this month may prove to be more emotional than concrete.
The summit, which has no specific agenda, will be a milestone in North-South relations but likely not bring any dramatic new initiatives in a region where North Korea has been a consistent threat to stability. Instead, the leaders are expected to reaffirm the important strides made so far, express their common will to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons and ensure that both sides keep up the momentum toward reducing tension.
The North does not enter into any international negotiation without expecting to get something in return, which in this case could also mean more assistance for its ailing economy.
The first meeting of the leaders of North and South, in June 2000, captured the hearts of the Korean people. Kim grasped the hand of then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung as he stepped onto the tarmac in Pyongyang, a moment immortalized on magazine covers and even a North Korean postage stamp.
The most poignant result came in the thousands of aging Koreans who fulfilled dreams of seeing relatives on the other side of the peninsula in a series of tear-filled reunions that continue to this day. Roads and rail lines were reconnected across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the countries, and North and South Koreans now work together at a joint industrial park in the North.
This time, finding such landmark goals may prove elusive.
The summit comes as the North already appears to be eagerly responding to U.S. efforts to defuse a nuclear crisis, after Washington eased its hard-line stance and agreed to North Korean demands to resolve a separate financial dispute.
North Korea shut down its plutonium-making nuclear reactor in July, and the communist nation is already talking about next steps to disable the facilities so they cannot easily be restarted. In talks that ended Wednesday at the truce village in Panmunjom, the North offered to move quickly to disarm even if some aid in exchange is delayed because of technical reasons, South Korea's deputy nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam said.
With the nuclear issue really turning on relations between Pyongyang and Washington, the North and South Korean leaders will likely just reaffirm at their summit that they share the goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula _ an oft-stated mantra by both sides.
Progress on denuclearization could eventually foster a more profound achievement: finally signing a peace treaty to end the Korean War and setting up a peace regime that would spread stability across northeast Asia.
While Roh and Kim will likely address that prospect, the issue again has to involve other countries. China and United States also fought in that war, which ended in a 1953 cease-fire. Some 28,000 U.S. troops remain in the South as a legacy of the conflict and as a deterrent to the North.
Enthusiasm for this month's meeting is tempered by concerns it aims to serve political ends ahead of South Korea's December presidential election. Roh, who leaves office in February, has been struggling with low popularity and his liberals have yet to find a candidate to gain significant traction with voters.
Kim and Roh stand on common ground in seeking to keep the opposition from power in Seoul.
The conservative Grand National Party, which now enjoys massive leads in opinion polls, has historically taken a more critical view of engagement with the North. It has recently softened its stance, but still would be expected to put more pressure on Pyongyang to make good on reforms in exchange for aid.
North Korea's propaganda machine regularly lambastes the Grand National Party and has even called directly on South Koreans not to give it their votes.
Burt Herman is chief of bureau in Korea for The Associated Press.