- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

SEOUL President Kim Dae-jung's government has rejected an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin to host a summit between South and North Korea, South Korean officials said yesterday.

Mr. Kim's next meeting with Kim Jong-il, the North's leader if it is to happen during the president's final six months in office should take place in Seoul, as the two leaders agreed when they last met in Pyongyang in June 2000, the officials said.

"Kim Jong-il's credibility with our people is at stake and he should keep his word by coming to Seoul," Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-sik said in an interview.

There is no way, he said, for South Korea to sell to its "domestic audience" a South-North summit in a third country.

"Our policy remains that Seoul should be the place of the next meeting," no matter where different invitations come from, he said.

He also noted that lack of time remaining in Mr. Kim's term, which ends in February, is not a sufficient reason to hold a summit.

Park Chan-bong, director-general for policy at the Ministry of Unification, said Seoul is capable of organizing the meeting when Pyongyang is ready.

"We don't need a mediator, just as we didn't need one when President Kim visited Pyongyang," he said.

Western diplomats here noted Mr. Putin's interest in getting involved in the Korean issue, in which the United States has been the main third-party player for years.

Last month, the Russian leader dispatched his foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, to meet with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang and, Russian and South Korean officials said, sent him a letter proposing a North-South summit in Russia's Far East.

When Mr. Ivanov returned to Moscow, he told reporters that North Korea was ready to resume dialogue with the United States. Two days later, North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun had a brief meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during a summit hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Brunei.

"The Russians are very keen to be involved," a senior Western diplomat in Seoul said, "and they have been very helpful in encouraging North Korea to behave better. But the South is holding the North's feet to the fire, demanding a meeting in Seoul."

Mr. Kim's ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) suffered an embarrassing defeat in parliamentary by-elections Thursday, only four months before South Korea's presidential vote in December.

The opposition Grand National Party swept 11 out of the 13 contested seats in the 273-member National Assembly, gaining a clear majority with 139 seats against 113 for the MDP, according to final results from the National Election Management Committee.

Seoul newspapers reported that the MDP plans to disband today and regroup under a new name to prepare for the presidential election in December.

The South Korean Constitution prevents the president from seeking a second five-year term.

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