- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

SEOUL The streets of Seoul took on a carnival atmosphere over the weekend as enthusiastic South Koreans brushed off the news that President Kim Dae-jung's historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had been postponed until tomorrow.
Music, placards, caricature masks of the summit participants, balloons and confetti were all in evidence in the downtown shopping and entertainment district of Myongdong over the weekend.
South Korean officials said they were not too worried by a notice from the secretive North Korean government on Saturday night asking that the three-day meeting between the two Kims be delayed for "minor technical reasons."
"The chief executive believes that waiting for one extra day is not a major issue since the two sides have waited over half a century," said Park June-young, chief spokesman for the South Korean president.
The postponement delayed the departure of Mr. Kim, who was to travel aboard a special flight to Pyongyang accompanied by his wife, Lee Hee Ho, a 130-member official delegation and 50 South Korean reporters.
Most of the celebrants in the streets were young men and women, not unlike the students who in past years have staged running battles on the same sidewalks against police with tear gas.
"These kids would do anything for a party," said Shim Jun-kun, a bus driver. "Most of them, even many of their parents, weren't even born when the Korean War started in 1950."
Despite the celebrations, government officials have sought in recent days to dampen expectations from the summit, warning citizens not to expect too much.
"What is most significant is that the leaders of both nations have the historic opportunity to talk directly," Kim Dae-jung noted cautiously.
World Research, a private public-opinion polling institute, found in April that 73.2 percent of South Koreans support the summit.
As a result, the long-feared North is enjoying a surge of interest, with its leader portrayed improbably as a likable folk hero. "Kim Jong-il: When are you coming to Seoul?" asks one large banner in the South Korean capital.
The craze is most evident in bookstores, where titles on North Korea that used to gather dust are attracting browsers and buyers.
Last week's best seller at the Korea Book Center was "100 Questions and 100 Answers About Kim Jong-il." The Shinsegae department store says it is suddenly selling $4,000 a day in North Korean products mainly edible herbs and liquor.
The Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) aired a program yesterday on Kim Il-sung University, one of a series that will run through next Wednesday.
Other programs in the series include a comparison of North and South in a program about the unification process in Germany, a documentary on the life of women in the North and a documentary disclosing virtually unknown instances of diplomatic negotiations between the two Koreas over the past 50 years.
There is less enthusiasm among those families that have worked in vain for years to be reunited with close relatives living on the other side of the border.
The Dong Hwa Institute, a private organization representing such families, found in a poll that more than half its members do not expect progress at the summit. Officials said the families have been betrayed every time the relationship between the two Koreas shows signs of even slight improvement.
A note of caution also was struck by Keizo Nabeshima, former chief editorial writer for Kyodo News and one of several respected Japanese commentators among the large foreign press delegation.
Mr. Nabeshima said he was struck by "the close policy coordination" among Tokyo, Seoul and Washington that made the summit possible and suggested U.S. special envoy William Perry did a good job getting everyone in the mood.
"Keep in mind, though, that the three nations have delicate differences in policy priorities when it comes to North Korea," he said. "Pyongyang is likely to exploit these differences to drive a wedge in the three-nation coordination arrangement."

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