Leaders of North and South Korea to hold second-ever summit

SEOUL, South Korea &

The leaders of North and South Korea, capitalizing on progress in shutting down the North's nuclear program, plan to meet later this month for the second-ever summit between the longtime foes, officials said today.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il will host South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun from Aug. 28-30 in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, South Korean presidential security adviser Baek Jong-chun told reporters.

At the first North-South summit in June 2000, Kim met then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in Pyongyang.

The two Koreas remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

But since 2000, the countries launched a joint industrial zone in North Korean border city of Kaesong, bringing together South Korean know-how and cheap North Korean labor. More than 17,000 relatives split by the heavily fortified border between the countries have met in tearful reunions, and roads and rail lines have been reconnected across the frontier.

Kim Jong Il believed the timing was right for a second meeting due to the state of relations between the Koreas and the improved regional situation, South Korean National Intelligence Service head Kim Man-bok quoted his North Korean counterpart as saying earlier this month. The South's spy chief twice visited the North to arrange the summit.

Steps to bring the Koreas closer together have faltered due to the latest standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions that began in 2002.

But the summit comes in the wake of the first progress on disarmament since the crisis began, after North Korea shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor last month in exchange for oil aid. The U.S. and other regional powers are negotiating with the North on a timeline for the communist nation to declare all its nuclear programs and disable the facilities.

The summit announcement came as experts from North Korea met with other countries in the truce village of Panmunjom to discuss technical details of future aid for denuclearization. The North agreed at the talks Wednesday to move quickly on disarmament even if the aid takes more time, South Korea's deputy nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam said.

Pyongyang views the nuclear issue as a dispute with Washington, making it unlikely that the North-South summit would achieve any further arms breakthroughs beyond a bland declaration. North Korea has consistently refused to engage South Korea on the nuclear standoff during one-on-one meetings between the sides.

On Wednesday, Roh told security officials working to organize the summit that it would help "normalize inter-Korean relations that have stalled due to the North Korean nuclear issue," according to his spokesman Cheon Ho-sun. The South Korean president added that the meeting would also help Pyongyang improve its relations with the international community.

Kim Dae-jung won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to engage North Korea, but the achievement was tainted by later revelations that South Korea made secret payments to foster the meeting. South Korea insisted Wednesday there was no wrongdoing this time.

"The spirit of the upcoming summit is reconciliation and transparency," presidential spokesman Oh Young-jin said.

Kim Jong Il promised in 2000 to make a return visit to South Korea for a second summit. But Kim Man-bok said Roh had accepted North Korea's proposal for Pyongyang as the venue.

Roh, a former human rights lawyer who took office in 2003, has repeatedly said that he would meet Kim at any time and there has been persistent talk this year that a summit was possible.

The conservative opposition Grand National Party has been staunchly opposed to a summit, calling it a political ploy aimed at bolstering the embattled liberals ahead of December's presidential vote. Roh is set to leave office in February and has seen his popularity plummet amid perceptions he has bungled handling of the economy and security policies.

"At this point, there is nothing to expect from the summit," Grand National Party spokeswoman Na Kyung-won said Wednesday in a statement.

South Korean citizens questioned why Kim Jong Il had not fulfilled his promise to travel to the South and were divided on whether the meeting would help reconciliation with the North.

"It's humiliating that the summit is going to be held in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, again," said Son Jin, 88, a political activist. "It's high time that North Korea had to visit Seoul."

Kim Bong-chon, a 62-year-old businessman, said he hoped the event was not just for political gain.

"Nothing is better than having regular meetings between the leaders to reconcile the relationship," he said.


Associated Press writer Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this report.

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