His greeting, like so much in the ultracontrolled Democratic People's Republic of Korea, was carefully choreographed: orderly crowds chanting approved slogans of welcome and waving pink and red paper flowers. The honored guest in Pyongyang was South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun. The host was the usually elusive North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il.
Last week's three-day inter-Korean summit in the North's capital city was just the second in the 59 years that both countries have existed alongside one of the world's most tense borders. The previous one, in June 2000, entrenched the "Sunshine Policy" of engagement. Yet that summit was marred by revelations of payments funneled by South Korean officials to the North to ensure that it even happened. Nor has Kim fulfilled his vow to pay a return visit to Seoul.
Next steps. Last week's summit was a less emotional affair, lacking the same sense of breakthrough. Still, it yielded a reconciliation deal that pledged both sides to seek a formal peace treaty to replace the armistice left over from the 1950-53 Korean War. The two also agreed to expand economic and tourism ties, start railway cargo service across the Demilitarized Zone, and step up contacts between families split by the enduring hostility. A joint cheering squad will travel to next year's Beijing Olympics.
As he made his symbolic walk across the frontier, Roh declared, "This line will be gradually erased, and the wall will fall." His mission also carried domestic political freight: As an unpopular, lame duck president, he may be engaged in legacy building and in trying to stave off his party's likely electoral loss to conservatives skeptical of coaxing the North into moderation by tendering financial rewards.
For his part, Kim, 65, appeared wan, shaky, and even dour at moments. But after Roh made a gift of a bookcase full of DVDs, including South Korean soap operas, the movie-loving Kim grew more animated. Kim also sought to deflect long-running rumors of ill health, including heart trouble and diabetes. He told Roh: "That is not the case at all."