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 [Asia Times]Roh hopes for a miracle

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PostSubject: [Asia Times]Roh hopes for a miracle   [Asia Times]Roh hopes for a miracle Icon_minitimeMon 18 Jun - 9:48

By Donald Kirk

SEOUL - With nothing to lose but his legacy, South Korea's embattled President
Roh Moo-hyun is hoping for a miracle to revive his lost popularity - and the
"democracy movement" that he believes would vanish under a
conservative successor.

He may be on the way to getting what he needs with North Korea's invitation to
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to send in a team to discuss and
verify the shutdown of the 5-megawatt reactor at the nuclear complex at
Yongbyon, fulfilling the first phase of the six-nation nuclear deal of February

South Korean officials are cautious about Pyongyang's intentions - Chun
Yung-woo, the South's chief nuclear envoy, warned reporters not to get
"excited" in view of North Korea's failure to shut down the reactor
as called for within 60 days after the signing of the agreement. Nonetheless,
the sense is that the North will come through, however belatedly, and then wait
for the South to ship in 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 400,000 tonnes of
rice as promised.

The peripatetic US envoy, Christopher Hill, arriving here from a conference in
Ulan Bator via Beijing, was upbeat, saying he believed the process could begin
to move "quickly" after getting by a few technical problems. He
hoped, moreover, for another round of six-party talks on the next, far more
difficult phase - getting North Korea to come clean on its entire nuclear
inventory and abandon the whole show in exchange for an enormous infusion of

The news at least of North Korea's acquiescence to letting in an IAEA team for
the first time since expelling the last inspectors at the end of 2002 came as
Roh was casting about for a lifeline to rescue his presidency.

He's hoping a miracle, possibly in the form of a summit with North Korea's
ailing leader Kim Jong-il, will add some luster just in time to bolster the
campaign of whomever the quarreling factions of his fragmenting political party
put up to run against the conservative candidate.

Chances for a summit, however unlikely, increased perceptibly with the transfer
of US$25 million from North Korean accounts in Macau's Banco Delta Asia to
North Korea - via the Federal Reserve Bank in New York and a Russian bank.
North Korea refused to talk about the reactor until getting the money - and
entree into an international finance system that has shunned the North while
the bank was blacklisted by the Treasury Department for serving as a conduit
for US$100 "supernotes" counterfeited in Pyongyang.

Roh outlined his hopes in an interview with Hankyoreh Sinmun, the muckraking
leftist newspaper that was founded as a critic of conservative governments and
for the past decade has been one of the strongest advocates of the policies of
Roh and his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung.

The summit with Kim Jong-il "must happen after the North begins its
denuclearization process," Roh told Hankyoreh. "When that happens, I
will most certainly meet Kim Jong-il."

Regardless of the outcome of the election, Roh figured that his successor would
have no choice but to accept whatever document he and the North Korean leader

The implication was that Roh hoped to work out a historic statement similar to
that signed by Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il when they met in Pyongyang for the
first and so far only inter-Korean summit seven years ago.

Roh's interview was timed to coincide with a four-day celebration of the
anniversary in Pyongyang, to which 284 South Koreans flocked on a charter
flight from the South. Led by a retired Seoul National University professor,
the South Korean delegation featured an assortment of artists, actors, and
religious and political leaders, some of them considerably more dedicated than
the government to reconciliation with the North.

Talk of a summit, though, was premature if not taboo in Pyongyang. A North
Korean official denounced as a breach of protocol a call by a former South
Korean unification minister, Jeong Se-yun, at a welcoming dinner for "a
second inter-Korean summit" and deleted that remark from a tape, according
to a pool report. The festivities, moreover, broke up early after North Korea
refused to seat three members of the conservative Grand National Party who had
joined a delegation otherwise made up of leftist activists and Uri Party hacks.

Participants happily signed on to a declaration for "national unity based
on the spirit of national independence and out of brotherly love", but
none had a chance of meeting Kim Jong-il, who rarely receives visitors at the
best of times.

Lately, Kim has been cutting down on sorties to military units and projects in
the countryside amid reports that he is suffering from assorted illnesses,
notably diabetes and a heart condition. No one knows his real condition, but
much speculation centers on a team of six German doctors that was recently in
Pyongyang, possibly to examine if not operate on his heart.

There seems to be no doubt that the portly leader, who may be the only
overweight person in North Korea, has diabetes, and the question is whether he
would be too ill for a summit even if he wanted one.

Such concerns contrast with the picture of good health that Kim projected when
he received Kim Dae-jung seven years ago and agreed on a return visit to South
Korea. The summit marked the high point of Kim Dae-jung's presidency, but he
has never hidden his disappointment over Kim Jong-il's failure to keep his
promise for a second summit.


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Kim Dae-jung said, however, that a meeting with Roh Moo-hyun would go far to making
amends. Roh in his interview with Hankyoreh suggested that August 15 would be
the best time - both Koreas celebrate that date as the anniversary of
"liberation" from Japan in 1945, though North Korea hides the notion
that Japanese Emperor Hirohito's surrender to the Americans had anything to do
with it.

In any case, Kim Jong-il could not be expected to fly to Seoul, where he would
run the risk of hearing the aggrieved cries of right-wing demonstrators
regardless of how many thousand police prevented ordinary citizens from getting
near him. A likely venue for a summit would be new economic zone at Gaesong,
just across the line in North Korea, 65 kilometers north of Seoul.

Roh favored Hankyoreh with an interview after creating consternation among
journalists here by announcing plans to abolish the press rooms from which
reporters routinely work in government office buildings and pillorying the
"big three" conservative newspapers, Chosun Ilbo, Joong Ang Ilbo and
Dong Ah Ilbo, for endangering the cause of democracy.

The future of democracy has lately been a matter of much debate and controversy
20 years after enormous demonstrations forced then-president Chun Doo-hwan on
June 10, 1987, to agree to a new "democracy constitution". Under the
constitution, he stepped down after election of a new president to a five-year
term that December.

General Roh Tae-woo, Chun's military colleague, won that election after Kim
Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam insisted on running separate campaigns, but civilian
candidates have won the following three elections, beginning with Young-sam's
victory in 1992, Dae-jung's victory in 1997 and Roh's victory in 2002. Under
terms of the constitution, the president cannot run for a second term.

At a lavish ceremony on the anniversary of the constitution, Roh castigated
"those who criticize the democratic force as incompetent", Indeed, he
said, "They even label the government as pro-North Korea." His attack
focused on "the conservative media" for having "emerged as a
political power" and continuing "to champion conservative

The view was that these conservatives represented the same forces that
demonstrators had struggled to overthrow in 1987. "The job is clear,"
Roh said. "The task is to realize democracy in the true sense."

The meaning of "democracy" may have been lost, however, in Roh's
attack on conservative forces waiting to take over after 10 years of
left-of-center rule that began with the razor-thin victory of Kim Dae-jung at
the height of the economic crisis.

Conservatives, including front-runner Lee Myung-bak, the former mayor of Seoul,
and Park Geun-hye, whose father, Park Chung-hee, ruled as a quasi-dictator for
18 years until his assassination in 1979, both paused long enough in their often
vicious campaigns for nomination by the conservative Grand National Party to
attack Roh for his remarks. Others joined in the attack, tearing Roh apart in
the media, as they have been doing regularly for months.

Neither they nor other conservative leaders attended any of the ceremonies or
concerts at which the songs of the democratic movement have wafted through
Seoul as reminders of that era of mass protest. Democracy activists have made
no secret of their view that the conservatives, however popular, are an
anachronism with "roots" in the country's military-dominated past.

The old-time fervor that infused the democracy movement was clear in a two-day
conference of foreign correspondents who covered much of that dramatic period.
Correspondents, including this one, recalled clandestine interviews with
dissidents, harassment by government operatives, and the sense of the triumph
of good over evil after years of military-dominated rule.

Interspersed between the remarks of the correspondents, though, were those of
professors from local universities promoting the government's "peace
regime" for bringing about reconciliation with the North and unification
of the Korean Peninsula.

A professor from Sungkonghoe University asked the correspondents if they agreed
that the United States was responsible for the standoff on the Korean
Peninsula. None responded. When he turned and asked one directly what he
thought of the question, the correspondent demurred. Repeatedly, the professors
called for withdrawal of US forces while also castigating Japan from the days
of Japanese colonial rule to the present.

Roh himself has avoided that issue while counting on democratic forces to
settle on a candidate capable of carrying the mantle.

"Nothing has been impossible for our people," he declared at the
democracy ceremony. "Let us move forward to a truly democratic era of
people's sovereignty" - a mission, he clearly believes, that a summit with
Kim Jong-il might just help to promote.

Journalist Donald Kirk has been covering Korea - and the
confrontation of forces in Northeast Asia - for more than 30 years.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights

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