August 24, 2009 11:33
North Korea's sudden charm offensive has met with a cautious welcome from experts but also calls for a careful analysis of the North's intentions and tactics. On Sunday, President Lee Myung-bak in the first high-level inter-Korean meeting of his presidency spoke with a delegation from North Korea who were in the South to attend the funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung. They met separately with Unification Minister Hyun In-taek.
"It's a positive signal," said a researcher at a state-run think tank. "But it seems highly likely that it's part of a tactic by North Korea to get out of the corner it has been driven into by international sanctions" imposed over its latest nuclear test.
Prof. Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University also welcomed "the momentum to break the deadlock" in inter-Korean relations, including the possibility of official government-level talks, given that the North Koreans delivered a message from leader Kim Jong-il acting as de facto special envoys to President Lee Myung-bak.
But Suh Jae-jean, the president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, warned the visit was "a tactic to persuade the U.S. by creating a conciliatory inter-Korean atmosphere at a time when the international community is enforcing sanctions."
Prof. Nam Joo-hong of Kyonggi University said the North may be attempting to create a sense of nostalgia in South Korea for Kim Dae-jung's "Sunshine Policy" of unconditional engagement with the North at a time when international sanctions are biting.
Experts advise the government to proceed slowly depending on what North Korea does next, especially watching whether its position on denuclearization improves, whether the crew of the South Korean fishing boat 800 Yeonan, who were towed to the North, are released swiftly, and whether the North finally apologizes for the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist at Mt. Kumgang in 2008.
Prof. Kim Sung-han of Korea University said improvements in relations "should be sought in such a way as to find a solution to the nuclear issue. The government should maintain certain principles in terms of denuclearization" in devising its policy.
Experts also agreed that cooperation between Seoul and Washington is vital. "Improvements in inter-Korean relations should be sought within the framework of joint South Korea-U.S. efforts to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons and return as a regular member of the international community," Suh said. "An emotional approach to such issues that ignores this principle would only mean falling for North Korea's tactics."
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