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[Editorial] Ministerial Talks Amicable but Fruitless

Posted June. 24, 2005 05:54,   


The 15th inter-Korean ministerial talks concluded with the confirmation that “Pyongyang talks” will be held between South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. This ministerial talk was marked more by “eventful change” than by “substantial progress.” For the first time, a “round table conference” was adopted and a joint statement was announced at the Korea Press Center in Seoul on Thursday by Chung Dong-young, the South Korean minister, and Kwon Ho Ung, the North Korean Cabinet councilor. These changes can be viewed as a progress.

However, there was no substantial progress on issues of primary concern, such as the North Korean nuclear issue, the North’s return to the six-party talks, and the repatriation of prisoners of war and abductees. Specific agreements were not made on these issues. At a request from the South for the stipulation of “denuclearization,” the North gave an indirect response, saying that “Kim Jong Il has already said that denuclearization was the instruction of the late Kim Il Sung.” The North gave no specific confirmation about its return to the six-way talks within July. Pyongyang was keen on receiving food assistance, however, and secured a pledge for about 400,000 tons of rice from the South, about the same amount given to the North last year.

Considering the starvation of North Koreans, one cannot oppose humanitarian food assistance. However, there may be some criticism from home and abroad that during the ministerial talks, the North was bent on receiving assistance by creating an amicable atmosphere, and the South gave the North the assistance without getting anything in return.

Some South Koreans are saying that South Korea was used by North Korea and its tactic of “avoiding the nuclear issue.” Some U.S. administration members harshly criticized that “Minister Chun Dong-young was reduced to being a spokesman of North Korea.”

Moreover, in an interview on June 22 edition of Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, Hong Seok-hyun, the South Korean ambassador to the U.S., said that “Minister Chung received information from Kim Jong Il that has yet to be publicized.” On June 17, Minister Chung said that “I explained an important proposal from Seoul to Pyongyang and Kim Jong Il responded that he would give an answer after doing research.” Those remarks make one wonder whether there are more to the ministerial talks than what is currently made public. As pointed out in these editorials before, it is a big problem if the government is having secret “under the table dealings” with the North.