|South Korean Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo, right, toasts with his North Korean counterpart Kim Man Gil |
South Korean leaders are describing this week's talks between the North and South in a positive light. The two countries wrapped up their first meeting in 10 months Thursday in the northern city of Kaesong, with no progress in resolving the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, although they did agree to meet again.
Authorities in Seoul say the fact that the two countries met at all is a step toward improving relations.
However, some conservatives, such as National Assembly Member Kim Moon-soo, say they are disappointed with the outcome of the talks.
Mr. Kim says he views the talks as an instance of South Korea giving something, but receiving nothing in return.
South Korea agreed to fulfill a previous commitment to ship 200,000 tons of fertilizer to the North, but failed to get Pyongyang's promise to return to nuclear disarmament talks.
The government of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun favors engaging North Korea and offering it economic aid to revive its failing economy. Many members of the opposition, however, prefer a tougher stance against the communist North.
The United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan have been trying to persuade North Korea for 11 months to resume negotiations on ending its nuclear weapons programs. In recent months, North Korea has said it will add to its nuclear arsenal, despite previous commitments not to develop such weapons.
While there are concerns about the outcome of the inter-Korean talks, many regional leaders are upbeat about a low-level meeting between the U.S. and North Korea. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyoki Hosoda on Friday called the talks a positive development.
Mr. Hosoda says the Japanese government believes the meeting between North Korean and U.S. officials raises the chance that multinational talks on the nuclear issue will resume.
Washington has confirmed that a U.S. envoy last week met with North Korea's representative to the United Nations in New York for the first time since September. The envoy conveyed the U.S. position that North Korea is a sovereign state, and offered reassurances Washington has no intention of attacking the country. U.S. authorities say the meeting involved no negotiations.
At the Seoul office of the International Crisis Group, analyst Nicholas Reader warns against reading too much into the meeting. The problem he says, is not in getting information to the North Koreans, it is getting them to negotiate.
"I mean, there's always been dialogue," said Nicholas Reader. "It's not a case of getting messages to them [North Korea], it's a case of convincing them that fundamentally something has changed - that it is in their interest to talk."
South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young says getting North Korea back to the six-party table will be a priority when he leads minister-level talks here in the South Korean capital next month.