- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

SEOUL North Korea's unpredictable and heretofore reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, surprised his South Korean counterpart, Kim Dae-jung, with a massive welcoming turnout yesterday and pledged to open a "dialogue without reserve."
The cheering crowds, which displayed the characteristic fervor and discipline of communist societies, marked the opening of an unprecedented three-day summit in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
Western correspondents, barred from joining the historic event, which was open only to Korean journalists, were forced to chronicle the proceedings from their hotel room television sets in Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
Nevertheless, the day's demonstration of congeniality drew praise from Kim Dae-jung, as well as from the United States, Russia and the United Nations.
A South Korean spokesman said today's discussions will be conducted through an "expanded summit." He did not elaborate, but left the distinct impression that it will be a "nuts and bolts" session as ministers with specific responsibilities and detailed knowledge join the leaders in dialogue.
The spokesman also dampened speculation that the two Kims would agree to set up a hot line to communicate in periods of tension.
Swept along yesterday by the upbeat summit moment, which he himself had worked so hard to bring about, the South Korean guest told his host he was tremendously moved by the welcome, especially as he had not expected to be able to make a visit to the North so soon.
He pledged to work toward eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula, divided into a communist North and a Western-aligned South after World War II. After decades of Japanese colonial subjugation before the war, Korea became a microcosm of the ideological bitterness spawned by the Cold War. From 1950 to 1953, it became a savage battleground.
For the short term, South Korea's leader appealed for reunions of divided families and an opening of land, sea and air routes between the two rivals, whose border has remained sealed nearly 50 years.
"Let us open up the road that has been blocked off for half a century," Kim Dae-jung said.
"Let us open new sea lanes of communication and air routes, too.
"When that happens, all Koreans will be able to travel freely between the two sides and work toward reconciliation, cooperation and eventual reunification," he said.
The summit began with a surprise welcome by Kim Jong-il at the airport on the outskirts of Pyongyang.
The 58-year-old North Korean leader, shedding his dour image, appeared relaxed and smiling. He held hands with his guest during a limousine ride into the North's capital, traveling along avenues lined with hundreds of thousands of people waving bouquets of pink paper flowers.
Then he offered a curious assessment of his expectations for the meetings:
"The world is closely watching us. Why President Kim came to North Korea and why I accepted is a question mark," the North Korean leader said.
"We have to give the answer to this question during the two nights and three days" of the summit, the pool quoted him as saying. "I ask not only President Kim, but also [accompanying] ministers to make contributions to this."
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart underscored the importance of the summit, saying the Clinton administration was "heartened to see the warm welcome that Kim Dae-jung received."
He said he didn't want to speculate about what, if any, concrete results would come out of the meeting, adding, "It's obviously … an important part of the process that they have been brought together in this forum to have discussions directly."
The Russian Foreign Ministry also welcomed the summit, being held just weeks before President Vladimir Putin's own planned visit to the isolated North.
"We are pleased that this awaited meeting has taken place," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov told Interfax news agency. "It encourages hopes for a constructive dialogue between the two countries."
At U.N. headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warmly welcomed the historic summit and said he hoped it would mark a turning point toward peace, stability and reunification.
"The secretary-general wholeheartedly welcomes the historic inter-Korean summit, which began today in Pyongyang," a statement issued through a U.N. spokesman said yesterday.
"He salutes the vision and wisdom of General Secretary Kim Jong-il and President Kim Dae-jung in opening this dialogue at the highest level," the statement added.
The reuniting of families strikes a deep emotional chord with virtually all Koreans.
An estimated 10 million, or nearly one in four South Koreans, have relatives in North Korea they have not seen in the half-century since the Korean War.
"Many of the family members are passing away due to their advanced age. We have to attend to their lifelong wishes," Kim Dae-jung said in a banquet speech at the end of the first day of talks.
Despite the congenialities of the moment, huge substantive problems that have bedeviled Korean leaders and their respective communist and free-world allies for decades are waiting to be addressed.
At least three big topics lie ahead:
North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. Kim Dae-jung has promised the United States and Japan he would raise the issue. But analysts believe he will avoid raising the ire of his host.
Kim Jong-il's demand that 37,000 American troops be removed from the South. He says that progress toward reunification of the two Koreas is impossible unless U.S. forces are first withdrawn.
A reciprocal visit by Kim Jong-il to Seoul. An agreement here would define the summit as a success. The secretive North Korean leader is known to have traveled outside his country only three times in his life, most recently on a secret trip to Beijing last month in preparation for this week's meetings.
Speculation in Seoul centers on an October visit.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide