Koreas mark anniversary but nuclear crisis looms
SEOUL - North and South Koreans celebrated in Pyongyang on Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of a historic inter-Korean summit, but Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons overshadowed prospects for reunifying the divided peninsula.
There was optimism on both sides of the heavily militarized border on June 15, 2000, when then South Korean president Kim Dae-jung flew to the North Korean capital for an unprecedented meeting with the North's leader, Kim Jong-il.
Five years on, lines of communication between the North and South have improved, humanitarian efforts from the South have been stepped up and joint commercial projects established.
But key summit promises remain unfulfilled, not least a reciprocal visit to the South by Kim Jong-il, whose isolated country declared itself a nuclear state in February.
South Korean media said the top South Korean official in Pyongyang for this week's anniversary, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, was hoping for a meeting with Kim Jong-il, but officials in the South could not confirm those reports.
Chung was expected to brief Kim Yong-nam, the North's number-two leader, on Thursday about last week's Washington meeting between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and President Bush.
Officials said Chung would deliver a message from the leaders urging the North to return to stalled six-party talks on the future of its nuclear weapons programs. Kim Yong-nam, president of the North Korean parliament, is the nominal head of state.
South Korea's foreign minister said efforts to bring Pyongyang back to negotiations with Japan, China, South Korea, Russia and the United States were at a watershed.
Ban Ki-moon told reporters Bush had pledged in his meeting with Roh to move eventually to "more normalized" relations with the North once Pyongyang abandons its nuclear ambitions.
"We will make sure that progress in South-North relations will be paced with the progress on the nuclear issue," Ban said.
THE PARTY MUST GO ON, DESPITE PRESSURE
The man who orchestrated the Pyongyang summit and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work, Kim Dae-jung, said this week a North Korea with nuclear arms ran against the spirit of reconciliation.
"We cannot accept North Korea having nuclear weapons, at any cost," he told a seminar to mark the anniversary.
President Roh, Kim's successor, told the same seminar the North could expect to see details of a significant package from the South and greater flexibility in the negotiations if it returned to the talks, which have been on ice since June 2004.
About 300 South Korean citizens and 40 members of the government flew to Pyongyang on Tuesday.
They received a grand welcome, pool reports from Pyongyang said. More than 50,000 cheering residents lined the capital's streets to greet them as they marched in heavy rain to Kim Il-sung Stadium.
The Southern delegation taking part in this week's festivities was scaled back at the North's request. Pyongyang argued it was difficult to feel a spirit of celebration when it felt Washington had increased hostile measures toward it.
"All the Koreans should valiantly turn out in the anti-U.S., anti-war struggle for the sake of the nation's dignity and destiny," the North's official Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial marking the anniversary.
Analysts and government officials say dreams of reunification cannot be realized until the North Korean nuclear crisis ends. Even then, the likely costs of bolting the impoverished North on to Asia's third-largest economy mean many would like to delay unification until the North can catch up economically.
"Five years later, it is hard to find two people in the country who agree what it has all meant," Seoul's conservative Chosun Ilbo said in an editorial. "History's evaluation of the inter-Korean summit of 2000 will depend on how the North Korean nuclear dispute ends."