South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung says the lack of progress in restarting stalled talks between the United States and North Korea is causing pain in the hearts of his countrymen. In a speech Wednesday, marking the 56th anniversary of Korea's independence from Japanese colonial rule, he urged both sides to return to the negotiating table.
President Kim says he hopes Washington and Pyongyang will speed up efforts to help ease tensions on the divided peninsula and revive inter-Korean exchanges. His somber appeal stood in stark contrast with the festive national mood a year ago, when an apparent reconciliation between North and South Korea was in full swing.
The first-ever summit of the leaders of the two Koreas last June produced a flurry of official contacts, raising hopes the peninsula could reunite peacefully after nearly 50 years of hostility. President Kim spearheaded the so-called "sunshine" engagement policy that helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
He has little more than a year left in office and is clearly anxious not to step down with his engagement policy in peril. But he has been frustrated by recent escalating tension between the Bush Administration and Pyongyang that has brought inter-Korean relations to a standstill.
President Bush, who suspended talks with North Korea during a policy review earlier in the year, offered to reopen dialogue in June. But Pyongyang has yet to respond to the offer.
East Asia defense analyst John Hoadley in Auckland, New Zealand, says he believes the current standoff between the United States and North Korea will continue for the foreseeable future.
"Unfortunately, there is no list of demands which could form the basis of the beginnings of a discussion," said Mr. Hoadley. "They are simply making accusations that the West is trying to encircle them, that the United States is escalating the conflict by keeping its troops in South Korea and that everyone is being uncooperative. And, until they come up with something that can actually be discussed in a negotiating forum, I'm afraid nothing much can be done."
The Unites States has 37,000 troops in South Korea to deter any North Korean aggression. The North has hundreds of thousands of troops near the border.
North and South Korea have technically remained at war since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.
In a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, August 4, North Korea again demanded the removal of the U.S. troops. But Wednesday, President Kim reiterated his support for the troop presence, saying it is needed to keep peace and stability in the region.