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Koreas Celebrate Summit Anniversary, But Major Challenges Remain

  • Kurt Achin

North Koreans cheer as they celebrate 2000 summit anniversary
A delegation of South Koreans is in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to mark five years since the two nations held a historic summit. Many South Koreans praise the inter-Korean cooperation that followed that meeting. However, many say the North Korean nuclear issue still poses a serious challenge to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

North Korean marchers shouted a greeting of "Welcome Brethren" to a South Korean delegation in Pyongyang on Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the 2000 summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

North Korean Premier Pak Pong Ju says the two Koreas must move forward in a spirit of cooperation.

Mr. Pak says the summit celebrations have made all Koreans feel that only unification lies ahead.

Economic and political contacts did increase after the 2000 summit. Several hundred separated families were allowed to hold brief reunions, and more South Koreans have had an opportunity to visit the North.

Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg said in Seoul this week that the increased contact has changed South Korean perceptions.

"The North became less of a perpetual belligerent threat, and began to be seen as a prodigal son, or a long lost brother fallen on hard times," he explained. "The sense of danger faded, and a sense of kinship emerged."

Former conservative lawmaker Lee Shim-bom says that shift in perception has complicated efforts to address problems the 2000 summit did not resolve, such as North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Lee says he is afraid there are now divisions between the six nations trying to rein in North Korea's nuclear arms capabilities.

The United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia are hoping to end North Korea's year-long boycott of nuclear negotiations. Pyongyang says it will keep adding to its nuclear arsenal, despite previous pledges to remain nuclear free.

The Bush administration says it is committed to a diplomatic resolution, but has hinted that "other options" may be necessary if North Korea continues stalling. Among those options is United Nations involvement. U.S. officials also say they will not remain silent about North Korea's human rights situation, believed to be one of the worst in the world.

South Korea's government, heavily influenced by the Sunshine Policy of reconciliation that brought the 2000 summit about, is hesitant to apply pressure to North Korea, or to discuss the country's human rights record.

More diplomacy gets under way Thursday, when the chief U.S. delegate to the nuclear talks, Christopher Hill, is to meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon in Seoul. Also, in Pyongyang, South Korean Minister of Unification Chung Dong-young is expected to urge North Korean leaders to return to the nuclear bargaining table.

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