North Korea uses Kim Jong-il funeral to send olive branch and warning to South

North Korea welcomed plans for two private 'condolence delegations' from South Korea to Kim Jong-il's funeral, but condemned the South's refusal to send official delegation and warned darkly of consequences.

Mourners carry a wreath as they arrive to pay respects to the body of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, North Korea Tuesday. North Korea is using Kim Jong-il's funeral as an olive branch to South Korea but also threatened them if they do not send a delegation in respect.

North Korea is turning the funeral in Pyongyang next Wednesday for Kim Jong-il into an opportunity for rhetoric against South Korea for refusing to send an official condolence delegation and then for banning most other South Koreans from going there as well.

North Korea’s official website Uriminzokkiri on Friday attacked South Korea for “unacceptable and inhumane action” for banning all but two condolence groups and warned darkly of the ban’s “significant impact” of the ban.

The message on the website appeared as an attempt at intimidation, and a bid to suggest a new crisis on the Korean peninsula after Kim Jong-un, third son of Kim Jong-il, has assumed power.

"We will keep in mind those who do not understand even the most basic actions of respect and humanity,” said the message, warning that those “who insult our dignity” face “a very expensive price.”

The rhetoric suggested that the regime that falls into place after the funeral is not likely to shift dramatically from the hard-line stance of Kim Jong-il, who ruled with an iron fist during 17 years in power before his death – even while earning a reputation as a playboy and charming foreign visitors.

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“Not in the short run,” says David Kang, professor of Korean studies at the University of Southern California, when asked about chances for a thaw in North Korea’s tough stance vis-à-vis South Korea, the US, and Japan. “If he’s following in his father’s footsteps, it will take a couple of years” before there’s any change in outlook.

North Korea promised a warm welcome to “condolence delegations” from South Korea, offering assurances that “the convenience and safety of South Korean condolence delegations will be fully guaranteed.”

Two prominent widows will lead delegations

South Korea has agreed to permit two widows whose husbands had unique, tragically interwoven records in pursuing rapprochement between South and North to lead their own “condolence delegations.”

First is Lee Hee-ho, widow of Kim Dae-jung, the president who articulated a “Sunshine policy” of reconciliation, flew to Pyongyang for the first inter-Korean summit with Kim Jong-il in June 2000, and won the Nobel Peace Prize six months later.

Second is Hyun Jeong-eun, widow of Chung Mong-hun, who was chairman of Hyundai Asan, the Hyundai group company responsible for realizing the dream of his father, Chung Ju-yung, to open up North Korea for business and tourism. Her husband committed suicide in August 2003 two months after his indictment for his role in channeling at least $500 million in bribes from South to North Korea to persuade Kim Jong-il to agree to the summit.

Aside from the issue over condolences from South Korea, questions swirl about the roles of Kim Jong-il’s other offspring. His oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, who is 40, has been living it up in Macao for years. Once a likely successor, Kim Jong-nam lost out after he was nabbed by Japanese immigration officials in 2001 trying to get through Tokyo's Narita airport on a fake Dominican passport in order to take his son to Disneyland..

Nor is it clear if the middle of the three brothers, Kim Jong-chol, will be visible at the funeral. Jong-chol, now 30, has been living quietly in Pyongyang, not viewed as real competition since his father passed him over as effete, but will probably remain unseen on television even if he’s somewhere close by.

Kim Jong-un nominally heads the funeral committee, but it’s unlikely he had much to do with the selection of its 230 or so members. All one knows is that Jang Song-thaek, a vice chairman of the national defense commission that Kim Jong-il served as chairman, seems to be the regent.

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