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Cablegate: Seoul - Press Bulletin; October 19, 2009

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 SEOUL 001644

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV MARR ECON KPAO KS US
SUBJECT: SEOUL - PRESS BULLETIN; October 19, 2009

TOP HEADLINES
-------------

Chosun Ilbo, Hankyoreh Shinmun, Segye Ilbo, All TVs
"We Should Not Compromise on Policy for Nation's Future;" President
Lee Mentions Controversial Sejong City Project
for First Time

JoongAng Ilbo
Senior U.S. Pentagon Official: "N. Korean Leader Kim Jong-il Has
Invited President Lee to Visit Pyongyang"

Dong-a Ilbo
Suji, Gokseong High Schools Show Largest Gains in College Entrance
Test Scores from 2005 to 2009

Hankook Ilbo, Seoul Shinmun
Seoul Denies Summit Proposal from N. Korea


DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
---------------------

A senior U.S. Pentagon official said yesterday that North Korean
leader Kim Jong-il has invited President Lee Myung-bak to visit
Pyongyang. The Blue House, however, denied the claim, saying: "We
recently informed the USG about the Oct. 10 ROK-China summit. There
seems to have been a misunderstanding in Washington about what we
told them."(All)

The senior U.S. official also said that a decision on the transfer
of wartime operational control from the U.S. to the ROK will be made
based on how things look in 2012. This remark may suggest a possible
adjustment to the timing of the OPCON transfer. (JoongAng, Dong-a,
Hankyoreh, Segye, Seoul, MBC)

A senior ROKG official said yesterday that Seoul will not provide
massive rice aid to North Korea in exchange for holding separated
family reunions. The North asked for humanitarian aid during last
Friday's Red Cross talks on cross-border family reunions. (JoongAng,
Dong-a, Seoul, KBS)


INTERNATIONAL NEWS
------------------

The State Department has decided to grant a visa to Ri Gun, Director
General of American Affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry,
raising the prospect of a one-on-one contact between the two
countries later this month. (All)

According to Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun, the U.S. has suggested to
North Korea holding bilateral talks in a third country such as China
in mid-November. (JoongAng, Segye)

According to Japan's Asahi Shimbun, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has
put off economic aid to North Korea due to the North's lackadaisical
attitude toward returning to the Six-Party Talks. (Dong-a, Hankook)


MEDIA ANALYSIS
--------------

-N. Korea
----------
All ROK media today gave attention to the State Department's
decision to grant a visa to Ri Gun, Director General of American
Affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry. Most media viewed this
U.S. move as raising the prospect of a one-on-one contact between
the two countries later this month. Right-of-center JoongAng Ilbo
wrote in the headline: "Ri Gun Goes to New York... U.S.- N. Korea
Dialogue Ripening."

SEOUL 00001644 002 OF 004

A senior U.S. Pentagon official's Oct. 18 claim - that North Korean
leader Kim Jong-il has invited President Lee Myung-bak to visit
Pyongyang - and the Blue House's denial received wide press
coverage. A key Blue House official was quoted: "We recently
informed the USG about the Oct. 10 ROK-China summit. There seems to
have been a misunderstanding in Washington about what we told them.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao did not specifically say that Kim
extended an invitation to President Lee."

Newspapers carried the following headlines: "Blue House Wary of U.S.
Over-interpretation, Saying: 'No Inter-Korean Summit Is Being
Pursued'" (conservative Chosun Ilbo); "Did N. Korean Leader Invite
President Lee to Pyongyang?... U.S. Claim Creates a Stir with Seoul"
(conservative Dong-a Ilbo); "Unilateral U.S. Briefing Goes against
Diplomatic Protocol" (moderate Hankook Ilbo); and "Blue House
Displeased with U.S. Mistake" (conservative Segye Ilbo)

Conservative Chosun Ilbo editorialized: "Should an inter-Korean
summit take place at this point, it would inevitably be reduced to a
venue for economic aid to North Korea, instead of dealing with the
North Korean nuclear issue. There is no reason for the ROK and the
U.S. to rush around, faced with the North's insincere proposal for
an inter-Korean summit. Instead, it is appropriate for the ROKG to
disclose the North's proposal in a direct manner and to make clear
its principles and positions in order not to cause any unnecessary
misunderstandings."


OPINIONS/EDITORIALS
-------------------

DID N. KOREA PROPOSE A SUMMIT?
(Chosun Ilbo, October 19, 2009, page 35)

A high-ranking U.S. Defense Department official told reporters last
Wednesday that North Korea is unexpectedly taking a conciliatory
stance, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inviting ROK President
Lee Myung-bak to visit. The comments came during a briefing
explaining the itinerary of Defense Secretary Robert Gates during
his visit to Seoul on Thursday for the annual Security Consultative
Meeting (SCM).

A Cheong Wa Dae official said that no such summit is being planned,
although there were discussions in principle about the possibility
of a summit if inter-Korean relations improve. These discussions
took place earlier this month during the summit between Lee and
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and also when North Korean Worker's Party
Secretary Kim Ki-nam met with Lee in Cheong Wa Dae on Aug. 23. So
it is true at least that the North Korean leader sounded out the
possibility of a summit with Lee on two occasions.

The Cheong Wa Dae official said the U.S. government appears to have
misunderstood what Seoul said in a briefing to U.S. officials. When
ROK media reported on the discussion of a summit during Lee's
meeting with the North Korean envoy in August, the presidential
secretary for national security issued a statement saying there was
"absolutely no discussion of a summit."

The leaders of East and West Germany met frequently to discuss
various matters, but during their two summits in 2000 and 2007, the
leaders of North and South Korea avoided any discussion of the
nuclear issue, which is the most important item on the agenda
involving the two countries. The desire to leave a historic
achievement was uppermost in the ROK presidents' minds, causing any
topics that could upset North Korea to be swept off the agenda
altogether.

In the present situation, there is no way to hold an inter-Korean
summit without addressing the North's nuclear arms program. It is
the greatest obstacle blocking increased inter-Korean exchanges and
cooperation. But the North has always insisted that nuclear
dismantlement would be possible only after it receives security
guarantees and economic aid, and it still insists that the nuclear

SEOUL 00001644 003 OF 004


issue is something to be discussed with the U.S. rather than the
ROK. Should an inter-Korean summit take place at this point, it
would inevitably be reduced to a venue for economic aid to North
Korea, instead of dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue.
There is no reason for the ROK and the U.S. to rush around, faced
with the North's insincere proposal for an inter-Korean summit.
Instead, it is appropriate for the ROKG to disclose the North's
proposal in a direct manner and to make clear its principles and
positions in order not to cause any unnecessary misunderstandings.

(This is a translation provided by the newspaper, and it is
identical to the Korean version.)


FEATURES
---------

CONTROVERSY ERUPTS OVER U.S. PENTAGON OFFICIAL'S STATEMENT THAT N.
KOREA PROPOSED AN INTER-KOREAN SUMMIT
(Hankyoreh Shinmun, October 19, 2009, page 3)

By Reporters Kang Tae-ho and Hwang Joon-beom, Washington
correspondent Kwon Tae-ho

While S. Korea rushes to deny the content of the remark, some
analysts say subtle changes in discourse on N. Korea issues indicate
preparation for epochal changes on the Korean peninsula are taking
place

A U.S. Pentagon official's statement Thursday (local time) that
North Korea has invited President Lee Myung-bak for an inter-Korean
summit has resulted in controversy, and has the Cheong Wa Dae (the
presidential office in the ROK or Blue House) issuing statements of
denial and expressing skepticism over the interpretation of
exchanges with North Korea.

In a meeting with reporters, the U.S. official said North Korea was
continuing to adopt a conciliatory posture. When asked what North
Korea would do next, he said that since the beginning of the Lee
Myung-bak Administration, North Korea has escalated tensions by
shooting missiles etc., but, recently, it has entered a conciliatory
phase, expressed its intention to participate in multi-party talks
and invited Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Lee to
North Korea. In response, a key Cheong Wa Dae official met with
reporters Sunday and denied the U.S. official's claims and said a
reference to North Korea's request for an inter-Korean summit was a
misunderstanding. He also pleaded with reporters, who might
mistakenly believe North Korea had proposed a summit, not to be
surprised at the news. Another Cheong Wa Dae official said that the
ROKG does not consider only discussing massive economic aid to North
Korea in the inter-Korean summit, adding that the North Korean
nuclear issue and humanitarian issue should also be addressed.

However, some observers say where there is smoke, there is fire, and
when seen in light of the situation on the Korean peninsula, it is
hard to believe that the U.S. Pentagon official's statement was
merely a slip of the tongue. With the exception of unofficial
inter-Korean contacts, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has
officially sent President Lee messages on two occasions. One was in
mid-August when former a North Korea mourning delegation traveled to
the ROK to pay condolences to the late President Kim Dae-jung and
met with President Lee. While meeting with Lee, the North Korea
mourning delegation, including Workers Party of Korea Secretary Kim
Ki-nam, reportedly expressed the need for even a dialogue between
the leaders of the two Koreas in order to improve inter-Korean ties.
The other occurred on Oct. 10 during the second trilateral leaders'
meeting of China, Japan, and the ROK in Beijing, during which
Chinese Prime Minister Wen conveyed Kim's statement regarding his
intention to improve inter-Korean relations.

Most of all, analysts are saying the focus should be on slight
changes in the language used by the Cheong Wa Dae and President Lee.
First, in his meeting with Prime Minister Wen, Lee said if North
Korea truly abandons its nuclear program, Seoul is prepared to have

SEOUL 00001644 004 OF 004


an open dialogue with North Korea. In a press conference following
the Korea-China-Japan summit, Lee also said if the opportunity
arises, he intends to explain his proposed "Grand Bargain" to North
Korea and earn their cooperation. On Thursday, during a coffee
meeting with foreign diplomats in Seoul, Lee said he expects that it
is time for North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and
proactively consider the bargain.

Analysts are also pointing out that North Korea's response to the
Grand Bargain has not been one of complete rejection. On Sept. 30,
although North Korea's official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA)
called the "Grand Bargain" a harmful and "not good" proposal for
resolving the nuclear issue, it avoided criticism of President Lee
and it merely said it was absurd to demand that North Korea abandon
its nuclear program without the U.S. first withdrawing its hostile
anti-North Korea policies.

When all of the exchanges are placed together, subtle changes can be
discerned in the tone of relevant parties' remarks regarding Korean
Peninsula issues, including the "Grand Bargain." This is leading
some to conclude that preparations are underway for the possibility
of an inter-Korean summit and epochal changes in North Korea-U.S.
relations.

(This is a translation prepared by the newspaper. We have compared
the English version on the website with the Korean version and made
some changes to make them identical.)


STEPHENS

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