A high-ranking U.S. Defense Department official told reporters last Wednesday North Korea is unexpectedly taking a conciliatory stance, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inviting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to visit. The comments came during a briefing explaining the itinerary of Defense Secretary Robert Gates during his visit to Seoul on Thursday for the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).
A Cheong Wa Dae official said no such summit is being planned, though there were discussions in principle about the possibility of a summit if inter-Korean relations improve. They took place earlier this month during the summit between Lee and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and when North Korean Worker's Party Secretary Kim Ki-nam met with Lee in Cheong Wa Dae on Aug. 23. So it is true at least that the North Korean leader sounded out the possibility of a summit with Lee on two occasions.
The Cheong Wa Dae official said the U.S. government appears to have misunderstood what Seoul said in a briefing to U.S. officials. When South Korean media reported on the discussion of a summit during Lee's meeting with the North Korean envoy in August, the presidential secretary for national security issued a statement saying there was "absolutely no discussion of a summit."
The leaders of East and West Germany met frequently to discuss various matters, but during their two summits in 2000 and 2007, the leaders of North and South Korea avoided any discussion of the nuclear issue, which is the greatest item on the agenda involving the two countries. The desire to leave a historic achievement was uppermost in the South Korean presidents’ minds, causing any topics that could upset North Korea to be swept off the agenda altogether.
In the present situation, there is no way of holding an inter-Korean summit without addressing the North's nuclear arms program. It is the greatest obstacle blocking increased inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation. But the North has always insisted that nuclear dismantlement would be possible only after it receives security guarantees and economic aid, and it still insists that the nuclear issue is something to be discussed with the U.S. rather than South Korea. That means any inter-Korean summit would end up as a phony fraternal gathering where South Korea merely pledges more aid without even mentioning the nuclear issue. In that case, there is no need for South Korea and the U.S. to get all worked up about a summit proposal from North Korea.
The proper thing to do would be to say what exactly North Korea has proposed and clarify the South's position and principles so that there can be no misunderstanding.