The leaders of North and South Korea met on Tuesday for the first time since World War II. Though the talks are being lauded as a major step forward for the two countries, many South Korean observers are concerned that President Roh Moo-hyun may make too many concessions on the key issues of investment and free-trade zones. Meanwhile, diplomats in Beijing reported progress in creating a timetable that could see the North decommission its nuclear weapons.
President Roh shook hands with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il at a lavish outdoor ceremony in the North Korean capital, reports the Yonhap News Agency, a South Korean newswire. Roh prefaced the meeting with words reminiscent of President Ronald Reagan's comments at the Berlin Wall a generation ago.
"This is an important day. I'm excited, but I have a heavy heart. I can see nothing around here. But this (invisible) border line has been a barrier separating the Korean people for the past half a century," said the president.
"The Korean people have suffered too much pain because of this border line and development has been deterred. I'm now crossing this forbidden line. More people will follow me on this overland inter-Korean trip. Then this forbidden line will gradually disappear. The barrier will collapse," said Roh.
The president then pledged to work harder to pave the way for inter-Korean peace and prosperity.
"Let's remove the forbidden barrier and relieve the Korean people's pain. We have to move on the path to peace and co-prosperity."
Discussions aimed at disarming the North were largely positive before the group broke for a two-day recess, The New York Times reported.
"Assuming we go forward with this, it really lays out an entire road map through the end of the year," the chief American negotiator to the talks, Christopher R. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said before leaving for Washington, according to Reuters. "Frankly, of all the six-party meetings, this was the least stressful in terms of coming up with common positions." He added that the talks were "really into the nuts and bolts now of implementing denuclearization."
Under an agreement reached in February after four years of talks, the North pledged to shut its plutonium producing reactor at Yongbyon and allow international inspectors to verify the shutdown in return for 50,000 metric tons of fuel oil. The reactor was shut in July, and the North has begun to receive fuel shipments.
The talks now under way in Beijing are aimed at carrying out the second part of the February deal that calls for the North to disclose all its nuclear programs and disable all facilities in return for a further 950,000 metric tons of fuel oil or its equivalent in economic aid.
The Korea Times, an English-language daily based in Seoul, carries an opinion piece from the head of the South Korean Red Cross saying much more needs to be done to bring the two divided states closer together.
Although talk of forming a kind of federation between the two Koreas began to be heard as early as 2000 during the first inter-Korean summit, not a single step has been taken to further that discussion.
If the two Koreas agree to regular meetings, that would have a big impact on governmental exchanges, especially in areas of economy, defense and foreign affairs.
Up to now, North Korea has refused to discuss nuclear issues with the South. So far the North maintains that it will discuss its nuclear program only with the United States, despite its proclamation of brotherhood with the South.
If the two summits express a strong will to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula during the meeting, it would mark the first time the North has respected the great principle of cooperation between the two Koreas.
In a collection of comments from eight experts, The Daily NK, a North Korean-themed Internet newspaper established by the North Korean Democracy Network, some said the talks did not go far enough. Gwon Young Sae, a Grand National Party member, said that meeting must not become "ambiguous."
Actual plans should be discussed rather than hollow catchphrases as long as the two heads, Roh Moo Hyun and Kim Jong Il, are meeting. It cannot become an ambiguous meeting about peace regimes or a plan for the reunification. Issues such as the amelioration of North Korean human rights, abductees, and military prisoners of war, and separated families should be fundamentally addressed. They should not lead to a result that appeals to democratic and abstract sentiments such as one nation or one collective.
Especially regarding North-South Korea's economic cooperation, which will be the hottest point of issue, discussions which will cast too much of a burden on the next administration should not be agreed on.
The Washington Post reports broad criticism of the summit in the South, particularly over worries that major financial promises will be made to the North without getting much in return.
The summit's timing -- two months before a presidential election in South Korea -- has provoked bitter cynicism in the South and among U.S. conservatives about the motives behind it. Some also doubt whether the meeting can produce lasting results on key issues such as family reunification, human rights in the North and reduction of military forces along the border.
This time, the South Korean government is saying it will not make inappropriate payments or concessions. But Roh's advisers are making no secret of his desire to invest generously in infrastructure and free-trade zones.
"Paying money as a matter of extortion is one thing, but making investments in the future of the country is another," said Moon Chung In, a political science professor at Yonsei University in Seoul who advises Roh and is attending the summit.
Many in South Korea are skeptical that concrete steps will come from the meeting, with this cartoon from the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper capturing the sentiment that President Roh is simply putting on a show to build support at home.