South, North Korean Leaders to Hold Summit

South Korea have surprised much of the world by announcing their leaders will meet later this month. It will be only the second top-level meeting in the two countries' history; the first meeting dramatically shifted inter-Korean relations seven years ago. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

North Korean broadcasters confirmed Wednesday the summit would be held.

A North Korean announcer says South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun will visit Pyongyang from August 28 to 30 for meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. She says the meeting will provide a window to improving North-South relations.

That sentiment was echoed here in Seoul, where senior presidential Cabinet secretary Baek Jong-chun announced the summit.

Baek says the summit reflects North and South Korea's decision to "upgrade" their relationship.

The only other summit happened seven years ago, when the North's Kim met with then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

The countries remain technically at war. An armistice halted fighting three years after North Korea invaded the South in 1950. Their border has been for decades one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints and earlier this week, troops from both sides exchanged gunfire.

The 2000 summit, however, dramatically softened perceptions in South Korea of the North as a threat. In the years since, South Korea has poured billions of dollars into joint ventures and aid projects for the impoverished North.

However, North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear arsenal remains one of the region's most serious security challenges. For three years, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have been trying to persuade Pyongyang to end its nuclear programs in exchange for diplomatic and financial incentives.

Officials from the U.S., Japan and China, as well as the United Nations secretary- general have expressed hope the coming summit will further nuclear disarmament and improve relations on the Korean peninsula.

Last month, the nuclear talks took a significant step forward when North Korea shut down its main nuclear reactor.

Lee Ki-tak, professor of political science at Seoul's Yonsei University, says the summit could boost the nuclear talks. He also says there is a political dimension to the timing of the announcement.

Lee points out the summit announcement comes six months before South Korea's presidential election. He says that Pyongyang is "shocked" by the unpopularity of candidates who, like Mr. Roh, support a more generous policy of dealing with North Korea.

Mr. Roh is constitutionally prevented from running again. Members of South Korea's Grand National Party, the main opposition, accused the president Wednesday of accelerating summit plans for political purposes.

Other politicians and experts on North Korea have warned that the summit may yield little real improvement in relations between the two countries. Some critics of Mr. Roh also expressed concern he might offer North Korea benefits that could impede the nuclear talks or that Pyongyang will offer little in return.

Since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon last year, many South Koreans have complained that their government has given Pyongyang billions of dollars but has gotten nothing in return.