Leaders of Divided Koreas Begin Formal Talks
The leaders of the Koreas got down to talks on Wednesday after a cool start to a summit between two countries divided by decades of animosity, but news of a deal on unwinding Pyongyang's nuclear arms program could lift the mood.
South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun has said he wants the summit with Kim Jong-il to ease tensions between the states, which are technically still at war, and help the economy of his impoverished northern neighbor.
The international community is offering Pyongyang massive aid and an end to its isolation if it gives up atomic weapons.
On Tuesday, Washington said it had approved a tentative deal reached at six-party talks in Beijing that would disable North Korea's Soviet-era nuclear complex by the end of this year.
"We have conveyed to the Chinese government our approval for the draft statement," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a news briefing on Tuesday.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. negotiator, said he expected China to issue a joint statement in the next day or two that "relates very directly to how we can move forward in the coming months on a certain timetable".
Hill also said he hoped to know by the end of the year how much fissile material, which can be used to make nuclear weapons, the communist state has produced. The talks bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
The nuclear deal, almost exactly a year after the North conducted its first nuclear test, should ease pressure on Roh to force disarmament concessions out of Kim.
Roh, in the the final five months of an unpopular presidency, faces heavy pressure to come home with results from a summit which has been widely criticized as unlikely to achieve much.
"The dismantling of North Korea's nuclear development program is a prerequisite for peace and economic development on the Korean peninsula," the mainstream daily JoongAng Ilbo wrote in an editorial.
It was a view echoed in Washington.
"Ultimately, it needs to lead to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
But South Korean officials argue that it needs to take a holistic approach to end one of the region's biggest security threats and bring the North in from the cold, especially by building up its broken economy.
Roh was given a cool reception when he arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday and met briefly with Kim, in sharp contrast to the effusive welcome Kim gave then President Kim Dae-jung at the first summit in 2000.
Most South Korean newspapers compared pictures of Kim's smiling expression in 2000 and a dour one seven years later.
Kim spent over two hours with the South Korean president in 2000 on the day he arrived and barely 12 minutes with Roh, this time staying away from a dinner laid on for his visitor.
Roh's critics say the visit is aimed more at domestic politics and expect Roh to skirt the nuclear weapons issue and mass human rights abuses so as not to offend his paranoid host.
Wednesday's summit talks coincide with the day both states mark the legend of the foundation 4,300 years ago of the Korean nation.
That nation was ripped apart after World War Two, when U.S. and Soviet troops occupied the two halves of the peninsula. Millions later died in the fratricidal 1950-53 Korean War, for which a peace treaty has yet to be signed.
Many analysts say the Seoul government is less fearful of the North's military threat it has lived with for decades than of its neighbor's collapse and the impact that would have on its own economy, Asia's fourth largest.
That in turn means that Seoul sees spending billions on the gradual rehabilitation of the North Korean economy as in its own best interests.
Roh is expected to witness one of the North's typical mass games extravaganzas featuring goose-stepping soldiers, dancing schoolgirls and a large flip card animation section that promotes unification under the North's communist banner.
He returns to South Korea on Thursday.