May 11, 2011 12:57
The press room at the Foreign Ministry was abuzz at around 4 p.m. on Monday with the word "Berlin" heard on all sides. It all began when Cheong Wa Dae officials accompanying President Lee Myung-bak on his trip to Europe told reporters ahead of Lee's meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the evening that Lee plans to make "an important announcement" about the North Korean nuclear issue.
In the end the announcement was rather shorter than reporters had been led to expect. "I am willing to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to the Nuclear Security Summit" in Seoul in March next year, Lee said, provided the North firmly demonstrates to the international community that it is willing to denuclearize.
The Nuclear Security Summit was launched by U.S. President Barack Obama last year with the distant aim to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It is unlikely that North Korea will abandon a nuclear weapons program that it has developed for decades just to be a part of this meeting. So far, Lee has promised to boost North Korea's per-capita GDP to US$3,000 if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program and even to guarantee its sovereignty and solve its economic woes as part of a "Grand Bargain" he announced in 2009, but North Korea has turned up its nose at both offers.
For Lee, a former business executive, they may have sounded reasonable. Nuclear weapons cannot feed hungry mouths, so he invited North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for prosperity and a chance to be part of the international community. But a gift that may sound enticing to one man may not be so appetizing to another.
Since 1989, when satellite pictures first showed North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility, the North has been able to use its nuclear weapons program as a handy bargaining chip to gain concessions from the international community. Will it now throw it away for the sake of South Korea's invitation to an international summit in Seoul? And will the reclusive North Korean leader, who visits even his closest ally China under the strictest secrecy aboard an armored train, be willing to travel to Seoul and meet the heads of 50 countries? The question is whether the Lee administration is simply naive or whether it has other intentions.
By Kim Jin-myung from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk
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