- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

SEOUL — The inter-Korean summit got fully under way yesterday with negotiations between the two nations’ leaders, but an apparent diplomatic faux pas appeared to have soured the atmosphere.

After arriving in North Korea and holding meetings Tuesday with Pyongyang’s titular head of state, Kim Young-nam, Southern President Roh Moo-hyun’s morning and afternoon were occupied by meetings between him and Northern leader Kim Jong-il.

Details of the talks were not make public. The leaders are expected to make a joint declaration this morning, after which Mr. Roh returns to Seoul.

The chemistry between the two seemed better than on Tuesday, when a dour-looking Mr. Kim only briefly greeted Mr. Roh. Yesterday morning, Mr. Roh presented Mr. Kim with a selection of gifts, including a shelf full of South Korean TV and movie DVDs. Mr. Kim looked vigorous and cheerful compared with his weak, downbeat appearance Tuesday.

Mr. Roh said at a televised luncheon meeting that his morning talks with Mr. Kim were “frank and candid.”

“Although we could not reach a consensus on all the issues, I could confirm [Mr. Kim] is firmly resolved for peace,” he said. “We agreed on the need to work out an agreement this time that can present a future direction.”

He added that Mr. Kim wanted faster progress at the Kaesong Inter-Korean industrial complex. Thus far, only 24 small Southern companies employing Northern workers are established there.

When discussions resumed after lunch, the notoriously unpredictable Mr. Kim surprised Mr. Roh by casually inviting him, according to pool reports from Pyongyang, to stay another day. Mr. Roh said he would discuss it with his entourage.

Mr. Kim — a man presumably not used to having his invitations declined, nor accustomed to debating matters with underlings — later withdrew the offer, reports said, given that the two leaders discussed all issues.

“Roh and Kim had sufficient dialogue throughout the morning and afternoon sessions of the summit and attained satisfactory accomplishments,” Roh spokesman Cheon Ho-seon said.

The invitation saga may have clouded subsequent proceedings.

In the evening, Mr. Roh attended a performance of the Arirang Mass Games. Hopes were high in Seoul that Mr. Kim would join Mr. Roh there, providing a setting for casual talks. Instead, Mr. Kim stayed away. Nor did he attend a dinner meeting hosted by Mr. Roh.

The North Korean government “has no real understanding of diplomatic protocol,” said Lim Jie-hyun of Seoul’s Hanyang University.

“If you go to all the trouble of going up there, allowing the North Koreans to renege on their promise to come down, then make the length of your stay dependent upon Kim Jong-il’s whims, you cut an even worse figure to South Korea audience,” said Brian Myers at Dongseo University in Busan, commenting on Mr. Roh’s reply to Mr. Kim.

Mr. Roh went to the North for the summit, even though it was agreed after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 that the next one would take place in Seoul.

Southern conservatives criticized Mr. Roh’s attendance at the Arirang Mass Games, which have lauded Kim Il-sung, the late North Korean leader and instigator of the Korean War. Seoul officials who traveled to Pyongyang before the summit reportedly asked the North to delete problematic sequences.

Video images of the event beamed from Pyongyang concentrated on folkloric elements that resound with all Koreans, rather than on political messaging.

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