Reagan helped Kim once, but twice?

Will President Reagan help Kim Dae Jung by pressuring South Korea to grant him freedom upon his homecoming Feb. 8? Mr. Kim is not counting on it. He has quietly built American public and congressional support for his return.

The administration has taken a hands-off attitude toward his return. ``We've pulled Kim's chestnuts out of the fire often enough,'' says a State Department spokesman, referring to Carter administration efforts to save Kim from execution in 1980 and to the Reagan administration gaining Kim's release from prison in 1982 to seek medical treatment in the United States.

But US officials are clearly edgy about possible domestic unrest -- and security threats -- that could be caused either by Kim's call for drastic political reform or by his possible martyrdom. The State Department has notified ``all parties,'' that ``we hope Kim's return will be trouble free.'' Adds one official: ``We would be concerned if anything happened to him.''

Views differ on the impact Kim's return is likely to have. Government spokesmen dismiss Kim as a has-been in Korea, where politics of a generation ago have been blunted by a strong economy. Says one Korea expert, ``Kim will be seen as representing the dissident extreme, estranged from the center, in a country with a huge vested interest in political stability.''

Others are not so sure. ``Kim is the most important political opposition leader in Korea,'' says Don Renard of the Washington-based Center for International Policy. ``It's just possible he could be the catalyst that could bring the opposition together.''

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