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Kim Dae-jung begins planning reprise trip North

Apr 25,2006
Lee Jong-seok, the unification minister and leader of Seoul’s delegation to inter-Korean ministerial talks earlier this week, visited former president Kim Dae-jung last night and briefed him on the outcome of those talks. Late the previous evening, Mr. Lee announced that Pyongyang had accepted in principle a visit to North Korea by the former president in June.
Aides to the former president were cautious but somewhat optimistic that a visit by Mr. Kim could help improve relations between the two Koreas. Mr. Kim has spoken publicly of his desire to visit North Korea again, a reprise of his visit there in 2000 when he was in office.
The Unification Ministry is expected to start internal consultations next week on the dates and delegations. A ministry official said they would contact Pyongyang when those proposed details were decided.
Choi Kyeong-hwan, Mr. Kim’s aide, said the former president’s staff would begin consultations with the Roh administration quickly. “We will come up with a plan after we have talked to the government people who visited Pyongyang this time,” said Mr. Choi, who added that the president’s health would permit the trip.
Mr. Kim’s first efforts to travel again to the North ran afoul of domestic politics and sensitivity about the timing. He had spoken of visiting in April, which opposition politicians saw as too close to the May 31 local elections and also was close to the North Korean holiday that celebrates the birthday of North Korea’s founder and long-time leader, Kim Il Sung.
One of Mr. Kim’s aides said that the former president retained all his zeal about North Korean issues, and said he still hoped to travel to the North on a newly reconnected railroad.
The former president has not given up hope, his aides say, that Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s current leader, will honor his promise to Mr. Kim to pay a reciprocal visit to South Korea.
Separately, Mr. Lee said he had also urged Pyongyang during the ministerial talks to hand over information on Kim Yong-nam, a South Korean who was abducted to the North in 1978. He also said he had agreed to provide North Korea with 200,000 tons of fertilizer; the North had requested 300,000 tons, plus half a million tons of rice.


by Brian Lee


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