[FOUNTAIN]Park Geun-hye in the North

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[FOUNTAIN]Park Geun-hye in the North

Last week, intelligence agents in Seoul were very busy. In the South, the prosecutors' investigation into the corruption scandals involving the president's sons reached their final stages. In the North, a meeting between Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, and Representative Park Geun-hye, the daughter of former South Korean president Park Chung Hee, generated some interesting reports. And a dispute over North Korean defectors festered among Japan, China, South Korea and nongovernment organizations.

Foreign diplomats here and information gatherers at multinational companies unexpectedly took more interest in the Kim-Park meeting than in the investigation of President Kim Dae-jung's sons.

"The scandals involving President Kim Dae-jung's sons are really past issues," a foreign diplomat on his second tour of duty in Seoul said. "Those scandals caused an uproar but they are meaningful only in South Korea, just as the scandals of former presidents' sons were. Once a new president comes into power, all those issues will be moot."

The diplomat added, "On the other hand, the meeting between Mr. Kim and Ms. Park is at least an ongoing issue and could be a future issue. The meeting provides good clues to help the next president of South Korea analyze the leader of North Korea and his system. But we were not informed of anything regarding the meeting except what Ms. Park said after she returned to Seoul. Accordingly, experts were very busy trying to get information on the details and the meaning of the meeting."

Another diplomatic expert said, "This was the first time that the leader of North Korea sent his personal airplane to take an outsider to Pyeongyang since Kim Il-sung brought Norodom Sihanouk in his airplane from Beijing. Other foreign information gatherers in Seoul say that Ms. Park's unexpected return through Panmunjeom must have been an impromptu decision by Kim Jong-il because of his satisfaction with the meetings.

Ms. Park had some interesting things to report upon her return, but most of them were Mr. Kim's answers to her questions. What did Mr. Kim ask her?

Ms. Park was her father's official hostess for many years, so she has expert knowledge about him, his sources of power and especially the political skills he wielded after the constitutional revision that gave him a lifetime presidency. Mr. Kim is known to be interested in Mr. Park's ruling style and substance, so some analysts suggest that Mr. Kim probably peppered her with such questions.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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