Kim offers icy reception at landmark Korean summit

first_imgSEOUL, South Korea – Leaders of the two Koreas opened formal talks today at the first summit between the divided countries in seven years, following a chilly reception for the South Korean president from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim began meeting about 9:30 a.m., South Korean pool reports said, after the opening day of the summit Tuesday when the two had no contact besides a 12-minute welcoming ceremony in which they barely exchanged words. This week’s summit is only the second time leaders of the North and South have met since the Korean Peninsula was divided after World War II. On Tuesday, despite rapturous cheers from hundreds of thousands of North Koreans as Roh arrived, Kim was reserved. The words “I’m glad to meet you” were apparently the only ones he uttered during the brief welcoming ceremony that launched the three-day summit. Kim did not hold more meetings with Roh on Tuesday. Instead he let his deputy, the country’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, deal with the South Koreans for the rest of the day. They held talks and the North hosted a banquet where Roh offered a toast to Kim Jong Il’s health. The North Korean leader’s apparent snub contrasted with a friendly reception the North’s leader gave to Roh’s predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, at the first-ever summit in 2000. During an airport reception at that time, Kim Jong Il greeted his South Korean counterpart with smiles and clasped both his hands tightly in an emotional moment that softened the North Korean strongman’s image to South Koreans and the world. In the first summit, the two leaders also rode together in a limousine to central Pyongyang and held about a half-hour of talks on the first day. This time, it was unclear what made Kim appear less enthusiastic about the summit in what could be an ominous sign for two rounds of official talks between the two leaders scheduled for today. The White House said it hoped the talks would contribute to peace and security. “Ultimately, it needs to lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday. A top North Korean diplomat said the summit will open up new possibilities for “peace, co-prosperity and the reunification” of the Korean Peninsula. “Nothing is more urgent and important than the reunification of our nation, (which) has been living for more than half a century with the sufferings of territorial division imposed by outside forces,” Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Choe Su Hon told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. Kim had already seized a dominant position in the talks by only agreeing to a summit in the North, going back on a promise in 2000 to pay a return visit to the South. Roh has said he wants to use this week’s summit to start a genuine peace process with North Korea instead of the current reconciliation track, which has seen halting progress in reducing military tension on the Cold War’s last frontier. The two Koreas remain technically at war since a 1953 cease-fire ended the Korean War, despite seven years of warming ties. Roh has not given any specifics about what he will propose or seek, prompting criticism from conservatives at home that the summit is an ego trip for the South Korean leader to establish a legacy for his unpopular administration, which ends in February. Both Roh and Kim also hope to keep the surging conservatives from winning South Korea’s December presidential election. They hold a commanding lead in opinion polls. The main opposition Grand National Party is more skeptical of relations with the North, insisting that aid be conditional on nuclear disarmament and reforms in the country’s centralized economy. Roh’s eager embrace of the North has also caused friction with Seoul’s ally Washington, which wants improvement in relations between the Koreas to only follow progress in the North scaling back its nuclear ambitions. “Even if we do not reach an agreement in many areas, it would still be a meaningful achievement to narrow the gap in understanding and to enhance confidence in each other,” Roh said of the summit.last_img read more