SEOUL, South Korea – Leaders of the two Koreas began formal talks today at the first summit between the divided countries in seven years, and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il appeared to warm to his South Korean visitor after an initial chilly reception.
According to South Korean pool reports, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told Kim he was concerned about flooding in the North, where this year’s seasonal summer rains left some 600 people dead or missing and tens of thousands homeless. North Korea delayed the summit from its original late August date because of the disaster.
Before talks began at a state guesthouse in Pyongyang, Roh presented gifts to the North Korean leader that included a bookcase full of South Korean DVDs, featuring popular soap operas and films starring Lee Young-ae, believed to be Kim’s favorite actress. Kim is a known cinema buff who has a vast film library and purportedly has helped produce several movies.
Kim appeared animated and smiled repeatedly today as he greeted Roh, a contrast from his dour attitude the day before when the two first met briefly at an outdoor welcoming ceremony.
The two men posed seated for a photograph along with other delegation members before starting their meeting. Kim was accompanied at the talks only by his spy chief, while Roh was joined by four top officials.
The morning session ended after just over two hours and the leaders were to resume meeting this afternoon, presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon told pool reporters in Pyongyang.
This week’s summit is only the second time leaders of the North and South have met since the Korean peninsula was divided after World War II.
Today was expected to be dominated by the leaders’ talks, for which no specific agenda was publicly known, before Roh was scheduled to view an evening performance of the North Korean propaganda spectacle known as the “mass games.”
Conservatives have criticized Roh for going to the show, which extols the purported virtues of the North’s communist regime.