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South Korea peace seekers meet new leader of the North

A delegation led by two South Korean widows, both linked to the failed Sunshine policy of North-South reconciliation, met with North Korea's Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang Monday.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / December 26, 2011

Lee Hee-ho, the wife of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung (c.) arrives at Kaesong, North Korea, Monday. Lee is part of an 18-person group allowed by South Korea to attend the Dec. 28 funeral of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

AP

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Seoul, South Korea

The widow of a former South Korean president invoked memories of the brightest moment in North-South relations Monday as she visited the bier in Pyongyang of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

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Mr. Kim's successor, Kim Jong-un, stood quietly by as 90-year-old Lee Hee-ho wrote that she hoped “the spirit of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration” – signed by her late husband Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il in June 2000 – “would be carried forward to achieved national reunification as soon as possible.”

Ms. Lee's visit was a poignant reminder of the hopes from that earlier summit and South Korea's failed Sunshine policy of reconciliation with the North. That effort stalled as North Korea forged ahead with nuclear and missile programs. South Korea's current president, Lee Myung-bak, ended the Sunshine policy but allowed Lee to undertake today's trip.

The decision to permit her and another widow deeply involved in North Korea to lead condolence delegations to Pyongyang represents more of a special exception rather than a significant olive branch. The government denied permission for all other South Koreans, notably politicians critical of its hard-line policy.

But Lee and Hyun Jeong-un, widow of Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-hun whose company opened up special zones for business and tourism in North Korea, had personal and historical ties that could not be ignored. Lee's husband, who died in 2009, won the Nobel Peace Prize six months after the North-South summit. Mr. Chung committed suicide in 2003 after his indictment for passing enormous bribes to persuade Kim Jong-il to agree to the summit.

For Lee, the journey by road to Pyongyang marked her first visit to North Korea since she flew there with her husband for the summit. Her yearning for a return to her husband’s Sunshine policy is shared by many of her husband’s allies and followers, but she avoided bitterness before entering North Korea at the truce village of Panmunjom 40 miles north of here.

In a statement read by an aide, Lee said simply, "I hope that our trip to North Korea will help improve relations between South and North Korea.”

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