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At Summit of the Koreas, Welcome From North's Kim Is Less Than Warm

South Koreans in Seoul read coverage of the first meeting of the somewhat dour North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, at left in photo, and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun.
South Koreans in Seoul read coverage of the first meeting of the somewhat dour North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, at left in photo, and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun. (By Lee Jin Man -- Associated Press)

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VIDEO | North Korean leader Kim Jong Il welcomed South Korea's president to Pyongyang displaying scant enthusiasm Tuesday while orchestrated crowds cheered.
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

SEOUL, Oct. 3 -- For an isolated leader whose cash-strapped country could this week receive a large injection of money from a high-ranking visitor, North Korea's Kim Jong Il did not appear especially convivial on Tuesday at the opening of the North-South summit he is hosting in Pyongyang.

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A huge and apparently state-orchestrated crowd of North Koreans cheered and waved pink paper flowers as Kim shook hands with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, who had traveled north by car from Seoul for the summit. Roh's advisers have said that the prosperous South is ready to make substantial economic and infrastructure investments in the North's decaying Stalinist economy.

But the reclusive Kim, dressed in the gray military-style jumpsuit he wears to meet the world's television cameras, managed only a tight smile when he shook hands with Roh on a red carpet in front of a performing arts hall.

For the remainder of the 12-minute encounter between the two leaders -- their only known get-together on day one of a three-day summit -- Kim looked dour and seemed to avoid eye contact with Roh.

Kim's cool greeting -- watched live by millions of people in South Korea -- set television commentators chattering late into the evening here in Seoul.

Kim and Roh opened formal talks Wednesday morning in Pyongyang, and Kim was more convivial and smiling for cameras. Kim thanked Roh for his gift of traditional Korean fabrics and said, "I hope you are satisfied with your stay."

In Seoul, meanwhile, a spokesman for the South Korean government denied that Roh's reception in Pyongyang had been cool.

"We believe it was the appropriate reception attitude," the spokesman said. He added that Kim had "expressed his most sincere courtesy and politeness" toward Roh.

The early atmospherics of this summit, only the second such meeting in the more than half a century since the North and South fought an all-out war, are clearly chillier than in the first summit in 2000.

In that encounter, Kim broke into broad smiles, hurried to clasp hands with and hugged Kim Dae Jung, then South Korea's president. The North Korean leader even joked about his reputation as a hermit strongman.

Excepting one slight smile and a few rote waves to the vast crowd, Kim was poker-faced Tuesday. Now believed to be 65, he appears to have aged considerably since the last summit, with gray in his signature bouffant hairdo, which appeared less buoyant than in years past.

The two men made no comments for cameras at their initial meeting and then left in separate vehicles. They did not exchange any words beyond simply telling each other, "I'm glad to meet you," according to South Korean pool reports.


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