Lee Bets on Inter-Korean Issues

      May 19, 2011 13:57

      Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday revealed that it met with North Korean officials behind closed doors to explain President Lee Myung-bak's conditional offer to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to the international Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul next year. During a visit to Berlin last week, Lee told reporters that he will invite Kim if the North shows it is willing to give up its nuclear weapons program.

      ◆ Final Wager

      Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said the offer "was conveyed" to the North Koreans and added, "We hope there will be more specific discussions between the South and the North if there is an opportunity." She declined to elaborate how the contact was made and stated simply that it was not made through civilian channels.

      She admitted Seoul is still waiting for North Korea's response. A senior government official said, "There are several channels whereby North and South Korea can communicate when necessary. The latest contact was made between working-level officials, not high-ranking ones."

      The Nuclear Security Summit is to take place in March and attended by the heads of around 50 countries.

      "President Lee wants to focus on the economy and inter-Korean relations during the remainder of his term," a Cheong Wa Dae official said. Sources in the ruling Grand National Party say Lee is betting everything on a radical improvement in relations with the North.

      ◆ Little Time Left 

      Lee is betting on improved cross-border ties because their deterioration not only has a negative impact on the country's economy but could also work against the ruling GNP in the next year's general and presidential elections. And after the general elections in April next year, it will be more difficult to find opportunities to engage the North in dialogue since the administration enters its lame-duck phase. That is why Cheong Wa Dae appears to be seeking a major breakthrough before then.

      The government has been trying to bring about an inter-Korean summit even after negotiations broke down early last year, according to government officials.

      ◆ Secret Contacts

      One high-ranking government official said a communication link still exists between Presidential Chief of Staff Yim Tae-hee and Kim Yang-gon, the director of the United Front Department at the North Korean Workers Party. "National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon is also making secret contacts with North Korean security officials."

      Locations for these contacts are believed to be China, Singapore and Malaysia. But the two sides are apparently clashing over the South's insistence on an apology for last year's attacks on the Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island. No matter how urgent his need for talks with North Korea may be, Lee does not intend to pursue further dialogue if those issues are not resolved.

      A Cheong Wa Dae official said, "President Lee's Berlin proposal can be seen as another message to Kim that we will offer our utmost support if he makes a decision."

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