- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

SEOUL — A smiling South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was met only briefly by a dour-looking North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, North Korea, yesterday as only the second Korean summit got under way.

Earlier, Mr. Roh had walked across the border before driving 125 miles north in a motorcade — the first South Korean president to travel to Pyongyang by road.

The North’s talent for regimented mobilization was apparent as tens of thousands of women dressed in traditional garb and men in suits lined the streets, shouting “mansae” (“long life”) and waving plastic flowers — resembling pink feather dusters — as a motorcade carrying Mr. Roh and North Korean Prime Minister Kim Young-nam passed. The crowds expressed polite enthusiasm for Mr. Roh, but female flag-wavers appeared ecstatic when their “Dear Leader” appeared.

Today, the leaders of the two Koreas opened formal talks in the first summit between the divided countries in seven years, following yesterday’s chilly reception.

Mr. Roh and Mr. Kim began meeting at about 9:30 a.m., South Korean pool reports said, after the opening day of the summit yesterday, when the two had no contact beyond a 12-minute welcoming ceremony during which they barely exchanged words.

Mr. Roh has said peace moves are his priority, but he apparently will seek only a joint peace declaration. A treaty formally concluding the Korean War, which was halted with an armistice, also needs the signatures of the United States and China.

Yesterday, Kim Jong-il and a military honor guard awaited Mr. Roh on a red carpet in front of Pyongyang’s prime performing-arts venue — a short meeting that lacked the warmth that characterized Mr. Kim’s meeting with Mr. Roh’s predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, at the first such summit in 2000.

In contrast to the smiling Mr. Roh, the communist leader appeared subdued and uninterested. Mr. Kim’s appearance sparked renewed concerns about the health of the 65-year-old leader among South Korean commentators.

Yesterday’s talks took place between Mr. Roh and Kim Young-nam, followed by a state dinner at which Kim Jong-il did not appear.

Seoul is promoting a “peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula and the creation of an inter-Korean economic community as its top priorities.

Among Mr. Roh’s 300-strong delegation is Chung Mong-ku, head of the giant Hyundai Motor Group. His late father, Hyundai founder Chung Ju-young, was a pioneer in North-South exchanges and met Kim Jong-il in 1999 and 2000. However, the South’s giant conglomerates have not invested significantly in the North.

One plan that may be raised is a third inter-Korean economic zone, after the industrial park at Kaesong and the tourism resort at Mount Kumgang. The fishing town and naval base of Haeju — just north of the tense Yellow Sea maritime border — and the port of Nampo have been mentioned as potential sites.

In South Korea, one observer thought Mr. Kim’s behavior yesterday seemed designed to belittle Mr. Roh.

“By turning up to greet Roh, Kim was being courteous, but by having Kim Young-nam, the titular president and Roh’s counterpart, escort Roh, it will look to North Koreans that Kim Jong-il is above both of them,” said Mike Breen, author of “The Koreans.”

“With Koreans, these types of moves signaling relative power are acutely perceived and deliberate.”

Seven years after the euphoric first summit, the South Korean public seemed underwhelmed by the day’s events. Lunchtime crowds barely stopped to watch the televised Roh-Kim meeting in restaurants and shops — a stark contrast to the 2000 meeting.

Even younger South Koreans who expressed little interest in the summit itself noted that it was Mr. Kim who, in 2000, had pledged to come south for the next summit.

“I am not that interested, as this is the second summit,” said Yoo Shim-on, 29, a marketing executive. “And I believe it is our turn. They should visit South Korea.”

Critics say that the summit is designed to boost Mr. Roh’s popularity in the final months of his presidency, and South Korean officials revealed that a monumental pillar to commemorate his border crossing had already been erected.

“Kim and Roh are just playing around. It is all a big show,” said Kil Jong-gu, a 58-year-old taxi driver.

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