October 21, 2009 09:51
President Lee Myung-bak is apparently reluctant to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, not only because he wants to see progress in North Korea's nuclear dismantlement first but also because he does not want to go cap-in-hand to Pyongyang like previous presidents, sources close to Cheong Wa Dae say.
In response to feelers put out by the North in recent months, Lee has made it clear he does not want a meeting just for meeting's sake.
"President Lee is resolute in his stance that he will not go to Pyongyang to hold a summit," an official at the presidential office said Tuesday. "The venue is a very sensitive issue for us. Looking at the president's official comments made since his inauguration about an inter-Korean summit, he has said he is willing to hold one 'at any time' but not 'at any time and any place' as was the position of previous administrations. This is an important point."
The reason why Cheong Wa Dae is placing so much importance on the venue is because of a focus on reciprocity in relations with North Korea, borne of a sense that previous administrations were at the North's beck and call. "Former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun both went to North Korea for the summits, and based on the principle of reciprocity, the position of this administration is that there will be no more summit trips to Pyongyang," one official said.
It is apparently because of this that Lee told a visiting North Korean delegation in August that his administration was different than the last two as well as those that were in power 20 years ago. A key Cheong Wa Dae official said, "The fact that we have reached a stage where North Korea has stepped up to propose a summit shows how much things have changed compared to what we have seen under previous administrations. Lee's consistent approach to North Korea is starting to pay off."
Cheong Wa Dae would prefer a summit in South Korea. If Kim is reluctant to travel to Seoul due to fear about his personal safety, the southern resort island of Jeju is also being mentioned. But one government source said, "You have to fly to Jeju, and North Korea is apparently opposed to the location because it will be difficult to return quickly to the North in case of an emergency there."
Other potential venues include the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, including the peace village of Panmunjom, and the North Korean resort of Mt. Kumgang. The South Korean government is apparently against a summit in China or another foreign country.
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