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Inter-Korean Summit Agenda Up in the Air
[Analysis] Will nationalists or internationalists win out?
Lee Byong-chul (merrycow)     Print Article 
Published 2007-08-15 07:59 (KST)   
"The North Korean leader Kim Jong-il finally grasped the truthfulness regarding large-scale economic assistance toward North Korea, which has been often expressed by his counterpart Roh Moo-hyun," said a North Korea expert (on the condition he not be identified), about the summit meeting to be held in Pyongyang on August 28-30.

Yet another analyst pointed out: "President Roh wanted to leave a legacy and to be remembered that he left something," adding, "Ultimately, the summit triumphs all else."

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These contrasting views exist elsewhere, too.

Speculation on the talks occurring within the Roh government regarding policy toward North Korea has been widely voiced. On one side are the internationalists who prefer solid Republic of Korea-U.S. alliances as the most ideal and effective solution. The camp is led by Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Song Min-soon and generally includes Chun Young-woo, a chief negotiator for the six-party talks, Im Seong-nam, a deputy negotiator for the talks, as well as the editors of leading conservative newspaper Joong-ang Ilbo, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-hee, the paper's editorial board, and some key figures at the Department of Defense.

On the other side are the nationalists led by Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung. They are certain that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is best achieved through continued discussion rather than futile engagement. Members of this group prefer inter-Korean discussions to U.S. engagement in Korean affairs. Thus, they argue that talks with North Korea should always proceed one step -- or at least-a-half step -- earlier than Democratic People's Republic of Korea-U.S. talks. Individuals in this camp include most of the staff at the Unification Ministry and many leaders in the liberal media and academic circles.

Such a split in views on North Korea has become particularly apparent in the course of discussing the inter-Korean summit agenda, which has yet to be decided -- maybe it will be easier to decide at the last moment.

The internationalists want to keep the six-party talks going as planned, putting a greater weight on the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. They believe it necessary to go ahead with the agreed-upon Ulji Focus Lens military exercise with the U.S. as planned. Those in defense in particular advocate the exercise as a robust bond of mutual friendship.

The nationalists believe the joint military exercise should be cancelled or postponed if it is an obstacle to the inter-Korean summit. They expect the summit meeting to open a new chapter of peaceful co-prosperity on the peninsula by freely discussing the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula.

While policy gaps on North Korea clearly exist, not to mention on the summit's timing and place, the nationalists are surely aware that without assertive assistances from the U.S., it would be difficult to resolve the troubled nuclear issues in due course. Furthermore, it goes without saying that the bottom line for both parties is to demand virtual and irreversible steps by North Korea toward disarmament.

"As long as the inter-Korean summit does not become a zero-sum game, in which one side's loss inevitably is the other's gain, it is highly likely to play a positive role in strengthening the inter-Korean relationship," said a senior researcher familiar with the South Korean government's policies toward the North.

When the summit was originally announced, the stock market in Seoul opened positively. The political calendar seems to be moving much more quickly.
Lee Byong-chul is senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation (IPC), a non-partisan policy advisory body based in Seoul, South Korea. IPC also issues a weekly English newsletter, "Korea Update," which focuses on North Korean affairs.
©2007 OhmyNews

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