Korea: Kim Dae-jung's funeral may spark North-South reconciliation
As tens of thousands gather in Seoul to mourn the death of the former president, his 'Sunshine policy' is breathing life into fresh North-South talks.
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In practical terms, however, the olive branch extended by Kim Jong-il to Lee, previously reviled in North Korean rhetoric as a "traitor" and "lackey" of the United States for his conservative policy toward the North, seems most likely to reflect the country's economic desperation.Skip to next paragraph
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"The most important thing for North Korea now is life, food," says Choi Jin-wook, senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Mr. Choi believes Lee may resume humanitarian aid to North Korea, in the form of food and fertilizer, after North Korea resumes reunions of families divided by the Korean War. Kim Dae-jung and Mr. Roh, during their five-year terms, authorized the shipment of several hundred thousand tons a year, but Lee outraged North Korea by insisting it abandon its nuclear program.
About 16,000 family members, among hundreds of thousands still alive more than 50 years after the war ended, have seen each other in brief reunions since the June 2000 summit, but there have been no reunions for more than two years.
'Sunshine' legacy lives on
The death of Kim Dae-jung – who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to promote reconciliation on the Korean peninsula – has aroused a tremendous outpouring of emotions for carrying on his Sunshine policy. While thousands attended his funeral, about 700,000 visited memorials for him around the country, and almost all the South's 48 million people watched all or part of the service as carried live on four national television networks.
The makeup of the US delegation to the funeral also indicated Washington's support for his policies. Madeleine Albright, who visited Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in October 2000 as secretary of state for President Bill Clinton, led the delegation, which also included her deputy, Wendy Sherman, who accompanied her to Pyongyang, and Stephen Bosworth, who was ambassador to South Korea during Kim Dae-jung's presidency and now is US envoy on North Korea.
Signs of a thaw?
Mr. Clinton's 20-hour visit to Pyongyang earlier this month to bring home two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee of Al Gore's Current TV network, who had been held in North Korea for 140 days, marked the first sign of a thaw in North Korea's confrontational attitude. The White House said Clinton's trip was "unofficial," but he met for more than three hours with Kim Jong-il and briefed President Obama last week on what they discussed.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, has said that US policy remains unchanged and North Korea must first return to six-party talks, which North Korea has said it will never do. Lee also has said there is no change in his "firm" policy toward the North.
"They already rejected six-party talks," says Choi, "but they are ready for talks with South Korea and the US." Whenever the parties talk, he says, "the nuclear issue should be on the table."