- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2000

Today's summit between North and South Korea is historical for the simple fact that it is being held. The leaders of the two countries are meeting for the first time since a truce to the Korean War was called in 1953. But they aren't expected to make much, if any, headway on the issue that most worries the United States and much of the rest of the world: North Korea's missile and nuclear ambitions. The North quite graphically demonstrated its missile capabilities in 1998 after it fired a medium-range missile right over Japan, and in the United States' direction.

North Korea stayed true to its unpredictable reputation when it abruptly postponed the summit, originally scheduled to begin Monday, by one day, 30 hours before South Korean President Kim Dae-jung was due to land in Pyongyang. It cited "minor technical reasons." South Korea has been careful to set the bar of expectations low, insisting that it will consider the meeting a success even if it merely leads to future talks.

Presumably to show support for the summit, the White House announced on Friday that the United States would be ready to ease its sanctions on North Korea by the end of June. But the economic impact of eliminating sanctions on North Korea would be trivial since it is such a "commerce unfriendly society," noted Nicholas Eberstadt, author of the book "The End of North Korea." Mr. Eberstadt said "North Korea is an aid seeking society," adding that what the regime really wants is for the United States to promote aid to North Korea at lending organizations such as the World Bank. It would be a mistake for the United States to support aid to a communist regime that starves its people and routinely tramples their rights.

At the summit, President Kim is expected to discuss reunions for families kept apart by the North Korean regime. Last year, North Korea expanded the definition of a "political outlaw" to include anyone who contacts a South Korean or Christian. This was in order to prevent the severely impoverished North Koreans from meeting their considerably more privileged kin across the border.

Experts are somewhat bewildered as to why the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, has agreed to meet with the conciliatory South Korean president. The North Korean regime for decades has sought to keep its people on edge about the potential for imminent, external attack. This image would be severely compromised by having a peace-seeking South Korean president visit native soil. North Korea's decision to go ahead with the summit could therefore be an indication of how badly it needs foreign aid. Earlier this year, South Korea said it was ready to help North Korea rebuild its tattered economy. North Korea is more than likely hoping for a payoff in the form of aid.

And the North can continue to hold up the United States as the main threat to North Koreans. Rapprochement with the regime will surely come quite slowly if at all.

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