Presidential Contender Criticizes Meeting

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 4, 2007; Page A12

SEOUL, Oct. 3 -- The politician who is seen in opinion polls as the likely next president of South Korea says he would not make any deals with Kim Jong Il until the North Korean leader "completely" ends his nuclear weapons program and opens up his closed economy.

Lee Myung Bak, a former mayor of Seoul and presidential candidate of the Grand National Party, said Wednesday that this week's Korean summit "worries me." He spoke as South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun was meeting with Kim in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

Polls indicate that Lee, 65, is an overwhelming favorite to win the presidency in December. He has often accused Roh, who cannot run for reelection, of using the summit to gin up support for the president's unpopular ruling party, which has yet to pick a presidential candidate.

"This summit comes at a time that is very close to the election," Lee said, adding that the nearness of the vote makes it inappropriate for Roh "to make a lot of promises regarding economic assistance that could become a burden."

Lee, the former president of a major South Korean construction company and an outspoken champion of free markets, has long argued that Seoul should take a harder line with North Korea.

But Lee said he has no interest in seeing Kim's government toppled. Instead, Lee said, he wants North Korea to junk its nuclear weapons and energetically follow China's lead by opening its communist economy to market forces.

"I believe my way of change will help keep Kim in power," Lee said.

Asked if he thought Kim wanted him to win the election in December, Lee laughed.

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