Government officials and analysts welcomed the summit slated for Aug. 28-30 as a fresh "historic move" to promote cross-border detente and rekindle reconciliation and unification efforts on the divided Korean peninsula; the first summit was held seven years ago. But critics say the agreement on the summit was politically motivated to influence South Korea's presidential election in December likely to be dominated by anti-communist opposition contenders.
The two Koreas simultaneously announced on Wednesday morning their leaders would meet in the North's capital city, Pyongyang. The summit will take place when South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun travels to the North to meet its leader, Kim Jong Il, Roh's security adviser, Baek Jong-chun, told a news conference at the presidential Blue House.
"The second inter-Korean summit is expected to contribute to peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula," Baek said in the conference jointly held with the country's intelligence chief and the point man on North Korea.
The agreement was reached earlier this month when Kim Man-bok, chief of the National Intelligence Service, made visits twice to the North.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency confirmed the planned summit, saying it will be of "weighty significance in opening a new phase of peace" on the peninsula.
Baek said the summit would also create crucial momentum to resolve the crisis over the North's nuclear weapons program, indicating Seoul would use the summit to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear drive.
"The planned summit meeting is expected to facilitate the Korean peace issue and boost international efforts to resolve the North's nuclear problem," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.
The announcement came amid growing optimism for the resolution of the nuclear standoff as the North has agreed to "disable" its nuclear reactors in return for massive energy aid and political benefits.
Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula would be discussed during the summit. "But it is too early to comment on details of the issue," Lee told the news conference. He said working-level officials from the two Koreas will meet in the North's border city of Kaesong next week to discuss the agenda and other details of the summit.
Roh vowed to raise the issues in the summit, such as denuclearization of the peninsula, inter-Korean peace, arms control and cross-border economic cooperation.
Roh also said his meeting with Kim would pave the way for "regularizing and institutionalizing" inter-Korean summit talks, according to his spokesman.
Inter-Korean economic ties improved significantly after the 2000 summit, but the rivals have yet to come up with any substantial measures to reduce military tensions. Since taking office in 2003, Roh has said he was ready to have the second inter-Korean summit talks to speed up the cross-border reconciliation process, calling for Kim Jong Il to visit Seoul. At the 2000 summit in Pyongyang, Kim promised to pay a return visit at an "appropriate" time. But he delayed the visit, citing nuclear tensions.
The South's spy chief said security concerns may keep the North Korean leader from traveling to the South. The North had proposed Pyongyang as the venue and Roh accepted it, he said. The NIS chief also denied speculation the summit was arranged to influence the presidential election slated for December, saying the summit proposal was first made by the North.
"Some may be concerned about negative political implications from the summit. But the government's position has been that the summit can be held anytime anywhere," Baek said. "It is not related to domestic politics," he said.
The main opposition Grand National Party criticized Roh for having arranged the inter-Korean summit, with his single five-year term ending in just six months. "We oppose the South-North summit talks, whose timing, venue and procedures are all inappropriate," it said in a statement.
An inter-Korean summit can boost the popularity of Roh's party, which has sought reconciliation with the North, according to polling agencies in Seoul that forecast the GNP to win in the presidential poll, ending the eight-year rule of the liberal government that has pushed for a policy of engaging the North.
Kim Young-soo, a North Korea specialist at Seoul's Sogang University, said North Korea has also agreed to the summit to influence the South’s presidential election. The North has been fretting about the possibility that anti-communist conservatives may take power in South Korea, he said. In a bid to block a possible power shift in the South, the North has launched a campaign to protect Seoul's pro-reconciliation regime, warning that South Korea would be "inflamed" with the gunfire if the GNP comes to power.