June 25, 2013 09:47
Transcripts of a meeting in 2007 between president Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il throw new light on just how far Roh was willing to go in adjusting the de facto inter-Korean maritime border in the West Sea.
The Northern Limit Line drawn up unilaterally by the U.S.-led powers after the Korean War "is weirdly shaped and has turned into some sort of monster that can't be touched," Roh says in the transcript. "I agree with [Kim Jong-il]. The NLL should be changed."
The line, instead of running straight, bends sharply northward to incorporate several islands off the North Korean coast into South Korean territory. It has long been a key point of contention with North Korea, which refuses to accept and regularly violates it, while conservatives here see its integrity as a point of honor.
Roh at the time announced plans to turn the area into a "peace zone" for joint commercial activities. But he kept quiet plans to change the way it runs, which were only revealed when North Korea last year leaked what it said was its own transcripts of the 2007 meeting.
The latest transcripts were presented to lawmakers by the National Intelligence Service and obtained by the Chosun IIlbo.
That has created a double scandal, with conservatives accusing Roh of treason and opposition parties charging the NIS with meddling in politics.
During the summit, Roh was also startlingly candid about South Korea's relationship with the U.S. "We have depended on the U.S.," he says in the transcript. "It is a fact that we are a pro-American nation. Until President Kim Dae-jung came into office, [Seoul] did not even have the will to pursue autonomy."
Roh's administration favored a conciliatory approach to North Korea, sometimes at the expense of distancing the South from the U.S.
Roh also touched on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but was evidently reluctant to push the North too hard. "Many expect me to make clear demands regarding the North Korean nuclear issue during my visit. But they just want to pour cold water on this summit and see it go awry."
In other revelations from the transcripts, Kim Jong-il is heard to deny that he promised to make a return visit to Seoul in the first inter-Korean summit with Kim Dae-jung in 2000. Asked by Roh when he is coming, Kim Jong-il said, "Kim Yong-nam [the North's largely ceremonial No. 2 leader] could go instead of me. I could go if military issues are to be discussed. That is what has been agreed."
Roh responded, "Protests can be held freely in the South, so there are some difficulties for us in hosting your visit."
The Democratic Party accused the NIS of abusing its power by revealing the transcripts now in a bid to shift public attention from allegations that agents posted online comments during last year's presidential election to sway votes in favor of President Park Geun-hye.
But the ruling Saenuri Party said the public has the right to know what their former president said about the NLL and denied pressuring the NIS to reveal the transcripts.
Roh died in 2009 and Kim in 2011.
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