The leaders of North and South Korea will meet this month for the second time since the peninsula's division after World War II, the two countries announced yesterday, capitalizing on progress in Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament to revive their historic reconciliation.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will host South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun from Aug. 28-30 in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, South Korean presidential security adviser Baek Jong-chun told reporters.
At the first North-South summit in June 2000, Kim met then-South Korean president Kim Dae-jung in Pyongyang.
The two Koreas remain technically at war since the Korean War ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, but the 2000 meeting led them to embark on economic cooperation projects and stage reunions of thousands of relatives split by their shared border -- the world's most heavily fortified.
Kim Dae-jung won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to engage North Korea, but the achievement was tainted by later revelations that South Korea made secret payments to foster the meeting.
THE RIGHT TIME
Kim Jong-il believed the timing was right for a second meeting owing to the state of relations between the Koreas and the improved regional situation, South Korean National Intelligence Service head Kim Man-bok quoted his North Korean counterpart as saying earlier this month. The South's spy chief twice visited the North to arrange the summit.
Steps to bring the Koreas closer together have faltered amid the latest standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions that began in 2002.
But the summit comes in the wake of the first progress on disarmament since the crisis began, after North Korea shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor last month in exchange for oil aid. The US and regional powers are negotiating with the North on a timeline for the communist nation to declare all its nuclear programs and disable the facilities.
The summit announcement came as experts from North Korea met with other countries in the truce village of Panmunjom to discuss technical details of future aid for denuclearization. The North yesterday agreed at the talks to move quickly on disarmament even if the aid took more time, South Korea's deputy nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam said.
Pyongyang views the nuclear issue as a dispute with Washington, making it unlikely that the North-South summit would achieve any further arms breakthroughs beyond a bland declaration.
Roh yesterday told security officials working to organize the summit that it would help "normalize inter-Korean relations that have stalled due to the North Korean nuclear issue," his spokesman Cheon Ho-sun said.
Kim Jong-il promised in 2000 to make a return visit to South Korea for a second summit. But Kim Man-bok said Roh had accepted North Korea's proposal for Pyongyang as the venue.
Roh, a former human rights lawyer who took office in 2003, has repeatedly said that he would meet Kim at any time and there has been persistent talk this year that a summit was possible.
The conservative opposition Grand National Party has been staunchly opposed to a summit, calling it a political ploy aimed at bolstering the embattled liberals ahead of December's presidential vote.
"At this point, there is nothing to expect from the summit," Grand National Party spokeswoman Na Kyung-won said yesterday in a statement.