Koreas Summit Featured Oddly Congenial Kim

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 5, 2007

SEOUL, Oct. 5 -- The summit of the two Koreas served up a peculiar conversation about where a head of state might eat the best cold noodles. It served up a peculiarly detailed commitment to a first-ever joint Olympic cheering squad that will travel by train from South to North Korea and on to the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

Most peculiar of all, the summit this week in Pyongyang served up North Korea's Kim Jong Il, who just 12 months ago terrified the world by detonating a nuclear bomb, as a leader announcing that he wants nothing more than to get along with his next-door neighbor.

Kim signed a declaration at the end of the three-day summit with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun that made many conciliatory commitments, including this one: "The South and the North have agreed not to antagonize each other, to reduce military tension and to resolve disputes through dialogue and negotiation."

There have been only two Korean summits in the more than half a century since the North and South, with the participation of troops from China and the United States, fought a savage civil war. This week's summit, like the first one seven years ago, coincides with a rare season of cautious optimism about North Korea's willingness to stop scaring its neighbors with missiles and bombs.

Most of that optimism derives not from what happened in Pyongyang this week, but from North Korea's newly professed willingness to disable its nuclear processing facilities and disclose all of its nuclear programs in exchange for aid, trade and a U.S.-led phaseout of the communist state's pariah status.

A breakthrough on that score was announced in Beijing this week on the day that Kim and Roh were chatting about, among other things, whether the cold noodles in Pyongyang were superior to those in Seoul. Roh conceded that Pyongyang's were better.

Noodles aside, a surprising amount of specific and encouraging substance came out of this Korean summit.

The leaders agreed to make North-South family reunions easier; to open roads and a rail line; to establish air links to a tourist destination, Mount Baekdu, in the North; to build a joint shipbuilding industry; and to step up investment in free trade zones in the North.

They promised to set up a "peace zone" around a much-disputed border in the Yellow Sea where the countries' armed forces have skirmished in the past. The waters would become a joint fishing area.

Kim and Roh also pledged to seek talks with China and the United States aimed at formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War, which concluded with an armistice and not a full peace treaty.

Several longtime observers of North Korea said these commitments reinforced recent signals that Kim, believed to be 65 years old, is now trying to ensure the survival of his dictatorial state through engagement, rather than confrontation.

"It is significant that Kim offered to play a positive role in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula," said Kim Ki Jung, a professor of political science at Yonsei University in Seoul.

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