N. Korea eyes better relations with U.S. through inter-Korean summit: experts

Yonhap
Kim Hyun
8/8/2007

North Korea’s agreement to hold a second inter-Korean summit is seen as an attempt to improve relations with the United States, and possibly normalize its diplomatic ties, experts said Wednesday.

The communist North could also want the summit to elicit more aid from South Korea and to influence the coming presidential elections in the South, they added.

“It seems North Korea has decided that its relations with the United States and its relations with the South could be in a win-win situation,” Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist with Seoul’s Dongguk University, said.

“In the summit, North Korea may try to generate an agreement on peace on the peninsula, and through the agreement it will try to reach out to the United States and even Japan to establish diplomatic relations in the Bush administration’s term,” he said.

The Bush administration has gradually softened its hard-line policy on Pyongyang since the communist nation conducted its first-ever nuclear bomb test in October last year. Thereafter, multilateral negotiations to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have made major progress, with Pyongyang shutting down its operating nuclear reactor in Yongbyon last month.

Announcing the summit set for Aug. 28-30 in Pyongyang, North Korea said the historic meeting will help bring “a new phase of peace on the Korean Peninsula, co-prosperity of the nation and national reunification.”

“With the United States now moving in the direction of softening on North Korea, North Korea seems to understand that there will be more things to gain from the U.S. after the summit with the South,” Lee Soo-seok, a North Korea specialist with the Institute of Unification Policy affiliated with Seoul’s Hanyang University, said.

Before Bush leaves office, North Korea expects to be removed from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring nations and excluded from U.S-imposed trade sanctions, experts said, adding the North may hope the summit will serve as a stepping stone for those breakthroughs.

At the inter-Korean level, Pyongyang must have considered the coming presidential election, and calculated the summit would help rally South Korean liberal voters, who advocate detente with the North, experts said. President Roh Moo-hyun has been suffering from low public support and public surveys have indicated the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) would win the December presidential election. That prediction may have prompted Pyongyang to criticize the conservative GNP.

“The people of all classes in South Korea should achieve a grand alliance against the conservatives and gear up their struggle to bury the pro-American forces at the time of the presidential election,” North Korea said in a New Year editorial.

The GNP, meanwhile, said in a statement, “We oppose the South-North summit talks, whose timing, venue and procedures are all inappropriate.”

The summit also comes amid rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has health problems. He reportedly underwent heart surgery in Germany and is supposed to be looking for an heir, South Korean media reports said.

“Above all other needs, to establish a stable structure for his successor, North Korea needs to keep its relations with outside regions on good terms,” a government official said, requesting anonymity.

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