Seoul Begged for Inter-Korean Summits, Says Pyongyang

North Korea on Wednesday claimed South Korea proposed a series of summits talks when officials from the two sides met secretly in Beijing last month. The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted a spokesman for the National Defense Commission as saying one summit was to take place in the border truce village of Panmunjom in late June, the second in Pyongyang in August and the third in Seoul in March next year.

The spokesman said officials from the Unification Ministry, National Intelligence Service and Cheong Wa Dae came to the secret meeting on May 9 and proposed ministerial talks in late May to prepare for the summits. He even revealed the identities of the officials, only to repeat that the North will no longer engage with the Lee Myung-bak administration.

He claimed the South Korean officials "begged" for the summits and "disgrace itself by offering "a gift of money."

A Unification Ministry spokesman did not deny the claims but said the North "distorted our real intentions." He added, "It is extremely regrettable, since this attitude does not help improve inter-Korean relations."

◆ Sowing Discord in S.Korea

North Korea appears to have hopes that next year's general elections and presidential elections in the South will bring a friendlier government to power with either the Democratic Party or former Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye in the driving seat. Park met the North Korean leader in Pyongyang in May 2002.

"The North seems to feel that if it sticks it out for just a year and a half, it will face less pressure to apologize for the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island" last year, a government source said. "It's probably also hoping to increase disappointment with the GNP among the South Korean public if it keeps ramping up pressure on the South."

Nam Sung-Wook of the Institute for National Security Strategy said North Korea is trying to foment rifts in South Korea. " First of all, when news of the secret contact become public, the Lee administration could be criticized by conservatives for improperly seeking to engage with the North. Pyongyang claimed that South Korean officials "begged" for the summits. At the same time, progressive groups will criticize the government for attaching strings to the talks, and North Korea experts will criticize the government for undermining its own policies."

◆ Warning to China

But others speculated this could be a warning to China. "After failing to get the aid he had expected during his trip to China, Kim Jong-il is stoking tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which is exactly what China doesn't want, to pressure Beijing," said Kim Heung-kyu, a North Korea expert at Sungshin Women's University.

Kim was apparently miffed that China failed to pledge massive investment in joint development projects at Hwanggumpyong Island and the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone. Now he could be taking his frustrations out on South Korea. "North Korea has used South Korea as an outlet in the past when its relations with China or the U.S. did not develop according to plan," a former NIS official said. "It seems to be seeking food or other forms of aid from China or the U.S. by heightening tensions on the peninsula."

◆ No Apologies

Kim Jong-il did not take the presumed mastermind of last year's attacks with him to China. Kim Yang-gon is the director of the United Front Department in the North Korean Worker's Party, and is usually part of the leader's entourage. This appears to be his way of saying that there is nothing left to discuss with China about the attacks.

Kim told Chinese President Hu Jintao that he is "sincere" in his intentions to improve ties with South Korea, which appears to be his way of telling Beijing that he has done enough, according to a diplomatic source. And intelligence source speculated, "For Kim Jong-il and his Songun (or military first) policy, apologizing for the attacks... would directly impact troop morale. It looks like Kim sent his final message saying that he will not pursue a summit with Seoul at the expense of weakening morale among his soldiers."

◆ Revenge for Insults

Yang Moo-jin, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University, guessed North Korean officials were outraged by reports that South Korean reserve soldiers used targets with Kim Jong-il's son and heir Jong-un's face for shooting practice. "North Korea does not tolerate any insults to the leader." He pointed out that the North's National Defense Commission in a statement Monday said South Korean soldiers "went mad" shooting at a picture of Kim Jong-un at a shooting range in Gyeonggi Province.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 02, 2011 09:15 KST