September 02, 2009 11:55
President Lee Myung-bak sent a clear message to North Korea that he is different from previous administrations. Lee reportedly told a North Korean delegation who visited Cheong Wa Dae on Aug. 23 he was different than the governments that led South Korea "in the past 10 years and even the past 20 years before that. Make this point very clear" to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
The delegation, led by Kim Ki-nam, a secretary of the Workers' Party Central Committee, were in Seoul to attend the funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung.
A senior source in the ruling Grand National Party on Tuesday claimed Lee also told the delegation, "Take a look at how fast the world is changing. North Korea must change. If North Korea demonstrates a willingness to change, we will offer support." Lee made those comments after receiving a message from the North Korean leader stressing the need for talks.
He was referring to the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, which pursued unconditional engagement with North Korea, while the "past 20 years before that" appears to be a reference to authoritarian governments that took a hard line against the North.
The source claimed Lee told the North Koreans that the South was ready to hold talks at any level, including a summit, but stressed the North must understand that denuclearization is a prerequisite to major support from the South and the normalization of ties.
At the time, presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said, "The government's position is that previous forms of summits and dialogue are no longer acceptable" and added that a "paradigm shift" was necessary. The government says exceptionalism in inter-Korean relations is not acceptable and meetings between the two sides must be subject to international rules, a standard that was first applied when Lee made the delegation wait their turn to meet him during the obsequies for Kim Dae-jung.
The delegation told Lee that North Korea would free the South Korean fishermen who had been towed to the North at a date the South preferred. But Lee reportedly told them to handle the matter favorably and according to international regulations. A ruling-party source said the government "clearly showed its resolve not to be swayed by North Korea's attempts to use hostages to influence our policies."
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