N.Korea still expects payment for summit

Choson Ilbo
2/26/2010

North Korea is still demanding rice and fertilizer in return for an inter-Korean summit, even as it keeps sending increasingly urgent messages to Seoul to bring such a summit about.

Since a secret meeting between South Korean Labor Minister Yim Tae-hee and Kim Yang-gon, the director of the North Korean Workers’ Party’s United Front Department, in Singapore in October, “North Korea has kept asking us for a huge amount of economic aid in return for arranging a meeting” between President Lee Myung-bak and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, a South Korean government source said on Thursday.

But the North seems to have no interest in giving in to South Korean demands to put denuclearization and the repatriation of prisoners of war and abduction victims on the summit agenda. “The North basically wants economic gain in return for letting us make political use of an inter-Korean summit for the upcoming local elections” on June 2, the source said. “It seems that the North still feels nostalgic for the Sunshine Policy,” which netted it huge benefits over the past decade.

The first inter-Korean summit in 2000 was announced only three days before the general election and was bought through a secret payment of billions of won. The second summit in 2007 was announced two months before the presidential election. Since 2000, the North has received more than 300,000 tons of rice and the same amount of fertilizer almost every year worth more than W1 trillion (US$1=W1,163) a year.

In another secret meeting between South Korea’s Unification Ministry and the North Korean Workers’ Party’s United Front Department in November, the North again insisted on specifying humanitarian aid in an agreement to be signed at an inter-Korean summit.

A “tree planting campaign for North Korea” initiated recently by the Presidential Committee on Social Cohesion also reportedly went awry because the North demanded a huge aid of food in return for letting South Korea plant trees there.

Kim Jong-il is apparently not aware that Seoul is serious about ending this cash-for-summits policy. A South Korean government official with experience in inter-Korean talks said, “At secret meetings, each side often had its own way of interpreting agendas. Maybe North Korean delegates who are accustomed to the Sunshine Policy are trying to interpret the current government’s messages the way they did with past governments.”

It seems the North has attempted to earn economic aid worth W1 trillion by prevaricating over the issue of the POWs and abduction victims, offering to handle it like part of reunions of separated families, and discussing the nuclear issue only with the U.S. 

Whether the attitude will change remains to be seen. The North is now in a worse economic situation than before in the wake of a recent disastrous currency reform on top of international sanctions and a severe food shortage.

Prof. Cho Young-ki of Korea University said, “The North is in dire need of support from the outside including South Korea to stabilize the regime for a smooth transition of power” to Kim’s son Jong-un. “It is possible that the North will reluctantly accept our request depending on progress in the six-party nuclear talks.”

The government believes that a dramatic turning point in inter-Korean relations could be reached if the North makes “big decisions” in the nuclear or POW issues, according to Kim Tae-hyo, the presidential secretary for foreign strategies.

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