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April 11, 2000

The San Diego Union-Tribune

News of summit shocks wary S. Koreans

Many citizens fear price
North will make them pay


By Howard W.French, New York Times Service

SEOL, South Korea - An unusual catalog of emotions - shock, relief, wariness - was on display yesterday as South Koreans learned their country's president would go to North Korea in June for the first-ever summit meeting with his communist counterpart.

One reaction, nearly universal, was shock that meeting few had imagined possible had been successfully negotiated in secret. In almost every case, the suprise was followed with a happy sense of relief that the Cold War might finally be ending in one of it last redoubts.

The came the practical question, asked by almost all: What will it cost us?

Such a mood-dampening question, on an occasion seemingly fit for celebration, was an expression of the extraordinary circumstances of a diplomatic break-through whose basis has still not been publicly explained.

Why, indeed, after years of snubbing South Korea as an insignificant puppet of the United States, had the North Korean government chosen the eve of crucial national election n the South to offer that country its most precious diplomatic plum.

"We are all waiting for details of what we must give them and what we can expect from North Korea," said Yeon Ha-cheong, dean of the school of marketing at Myongai University in Seoul. "North Korea will certainly demand alot of things."

After announcing the break through yesterday, the South Korean government compounded the mystery by providing almost no information about the scret negotiations that had led to the agreement with the North. The government did say that the task of fixing an agenda for the talks would be left to diplomats in the weeks ahead.

That left many South Korean experts on North Korean diplomatic behavior wondering aloud yesterday who was taking advantage of whom. To hear them speak, either the South Korean government was cynically manipulating the issue of national unification fo vote-getting purposes or the leadership was being had by a Ponygyang government that sensed it was desperate for a pre-election breakthrough.

In practical terms, the legislative vote Thursday will determine how much power th South Korean president KIm Dae-jung, wields for his remaining three years in office.

And, in addition to finally rewarding Kim for the steep political risks he has taken in reaching out to the North, several analysts said, Pyongyang probably calculated that the eve of the vote was the moment to strike a diplomatic deal at the highest price.

"This kind of meeting cannot come all of the sudden, out of nowhere," said Cho Dong-ho, head of North Korean economic studies at the Korean Developtment Institute, a private nonprofit group. "No one knows in detail, but the basic agenda must be a long-term frame-work of political contacts between us, and of course economic cooperation."

Although North Korea is widely believed to be past the worst its catastrophic economic difficulties of the last decade, when 200,00 or more people died of starvation, the country is still afflicted with debilitating power shortages.

One potential reward that was widely mentioned yesterday as a possible recompense for giving the South Korean president such a diplomatic vindication on the eve of South Korea's elections was a reconection of the power grids between the tow countries, enabling the booming South to furnish desperately needed electricity.

Speculation about quid pro quos has only been magnified by North Korea's recent diplomatic behavior. For years, after the end of the Cold War and the loss f most of its communist allies, the country bore the title of the world's most isolated regime.

But North Korea has recently emerged as one of the most diplomatically active countries. And, in most instances, formal ties,or even seious diplomatic contacts, ahve come at a steep price tag.

Persistent reports have circulated in recent weeks that Pynongyang since agreeing to resume official talks with Japan, has sought $5 billion in "reparations" from that country fro Tokyo's brutal colonial past in the country.

The United states, too, has often been put in a position where it has had to commit itself to helping ease North Korea's economic catastrophic- through major food or fuel deliveries- in exchange for Pyongyang's cooperations


Updated: 2016/06/30

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