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Former culture minister testifies

Posted November. 08, 2000 12:02,   


Lawmakers grilled former Culture-Tourism Minister Park Jie-Won for three and a half hours Tuesday morning on the timing of announcing the date of inter-Korean summit meeting and on whether there was any secret agreement reached with North Korea.

He was called to a National Assembly hearing on the Unification Ministry for members of the National Assembly Committee on Unification and Foreign Affairs-Trade.

Park said that he did not think the announcement was timed to influence the parliamentary elections in favor of the ruling party. Assemblymen from the opposition Grand National Party spoke with a single voice against his contention, defining the April 10 announcement of the summit date -- just three days ahead of the April 13 elections -- as a partisan maneuver to help the ruling party win a majority of assembly seats.

Rep. Park Gwan-Yong branded the former minister's pretended ignorance of the certain impact of publishing the summit date upon elections as an utter laughingstock as the official had served under President Kim Dae-Jung known as "foremost past master in politics."

In response, Park Jie-Won argued that he could not keep from releasing the information because foreign media already had started reporting on it. Park, however, admitted that he hastened to unveil the date at 10 a.m. April 10 for the benefit of the South Korean press, although North Korea preferred noon.

Rep. Kim Yong-Gap of the GNP raised suspicions about the existence of a secret accord with Pyongyang regarding the summit talks.

"In view of the enormous amount of money North Koreans demand of even a single business wishing to enter the North, few would believe that it complied with Seoul's request for a summit meeting for free," Kim insisted.

The former secret envoy of President Kim named to negotiate the summit refuted the assertion.

"Such confidential bargaining could not be made, as both sides lacked sufficient mutual trust at that time, and if I had made any payoff, it cannot help being revealed in the course of administering the government budget."

There was no secret accord for partisan purposes, he declared.

A counter-argument came from Rep. Lim Chae-Jeong of the Democratic Party.

"The insistence of the opposition party on suspicions of an under-the-table agreement stems from its calculated partisan strategies aimed at blowing it out of proportion," Lim said.

Rep. Yu Hung-Su of the GNP also asked whether Park, while the latter was in Singapore about the same time when the National Intelligence Service representatives were meeting with North Korean officials March 9-11, had discussed the summit talks there. Park replied that he had been in Singapore on private business at his own expense, ruling out the trip's link to advance negotiations for a summit.

In the meantime, conspicuous during the parliamentary audit hearing of the day was the presence of an NIS official, Suh Hoon, its chief coordinator of North Korean Affairs, who sat through and kept meticulous notes of the debates.

Ha Tae-Won scooop@donga.com