News / Asia

South Korea’s President Offers Possibility of Summit with the North

Comment made during televised discussion program

A TV screen shows South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's panel discussion at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, February 1, 2011
A TV screen shows South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's panel discussion at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, February 1, 2011

South Korea’s president suggests a summit could be held with North Korea depending on Pyongyang’s attitude.

In a televised discussion program Tuesday, President Lee Myung-bak indicated that proposed military talks with North Korea could open the way for a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Mr. Lee says a summit could be held, if needed, but Pyongyang needs to seize the existing good opportunity to engage in dialogue with Seoul. And, he reiterates, South Korea has been insisting that North Korea take responsibility for last year’s provocative acts.

The Defense Ministry here on Tuesday said the two Koreas have agreed to hold preliminary military talks on February 8th. Colonel-level officers will meet to prepare for a gathering of more senior officers later.

The South also asked for discussions about the North’s nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang has yet to respond to that request.

There have only been two summits between the leaders of North and South Korea. The first came in 2000. The second was held in 2007.

The slight thaw in the past month follows a year in which tensions rose to their highest level in decades.

North Korea is blamed for the sinking last March of a South Korean navy ship in the Yellow Sea. In November, North Korean forces bombarded a South Korean island with artillery. Four people died in the attack.

The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations. They fought a devastating three-year civil war in the early 1950’s. The conflict ended with a truce, but no peace treaty has been signed.

Six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs have not been held since 2008.

Since coming to office in 2008, Mr. Lee has taken a tough line with Pyongyang, scrapping his predecessors’ "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the communist North.

He cut off aid to the impoverished North, saying Pyongyang must give up its nuclear weapons programs if it wants a resumption of aid and commercial exchanges.

Mr. Lee made his comment about the possibility of renewed dialogue during a 90-minute discussion with a television anchorwoman and a university professor.

South Korean media, however, criticized the broadcast as stage-managed. Newspapers and television journalists say Mr. Lee is not open to the news media and limits questions at the few news conferences he holds each year.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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