[VIEWPOINT]Anti-Lee coalition: stay tuned

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[VIEWPOINT]Anti-Lee coalition: stay tuned

Representative Park Chong-ung, a spokesman for former President Kim Young-sam, said recently that President Kim Dae-jung was seeking a reconciliation with the former president. Oh Hong-keun, the Blue House press secretary, immediately dismissed the suggestion, saying that such an olive branch had never been extended.

The verbal exchange ended there, but its ramifications were large. Rumors of a reconciliation between the two political foes could well have some foundation and if so, that could directly affect next year's presidential election. So I delved into the matter.

Kim Sang-hyun is a long-time Kim Dae-jung confidant and was once a member of the party the two Kims together founded. He paid a visit to Kim Young-sam recently at the former president's residence in Sangdo-dong. There Kim Sang-hyun suggested Kim Young-sam meet the president.

"If the Blue House is not comfortable for you, how about the Shilla or Hotel Lotte?" asked Kim Sang-hyun. Kim Young-sam flatly rejected the suggestion.

But Kim Sang-hyun persisted. "You two can resolve the chronic regional conflict in Korea," he said. But Kim Young-sam's mind was made up, and he couldn't be persuaded.

In the end, Kim Sang-hyun left the Sangdo-dong residence with nothing in hand.

Was Kim Sang-hyun the instigator? If not, who might have sent him?

I talked to Mr. Kim about it. "It was my own decision," Mr. Kim said. "I believe that the two men should reconcile."

But Park Chong-ung, the former president's spokesman, begged to differ. "I mean, how can he bring up the Shilla or Hotel Lotte on his own? How could it be possible without an order from the president?"

On this point, Kim Sang-hyun's explanation is less persuasive. "I could lead the president to the hotel," he said.

Asked whether that was possible, he said the president would seriously consider it if Kim Young-sam agreed to come. Kim Sang-hyun sounded very sure of himself, but he has not met the president recently. Perhaps another middleman?

I asked Mr. Park another question. "Why is Kim Young-sam not willing to improve relations with the president?"

The answer was unexpected. Kim Young-sam would meet Kim Dae-jung on one condition: a sincere apology from Kim Dae-jung - more specifically, an apology for the political revenge that the president took on several close associates of Kim Young-sam.

This was news: Kim Young-sam has maintained that he might bump into the president at random, but would never seek to meet him voluntarily. Something must have prompted him to change his mind. I wondered what would follow.

"Could reconciliation between Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung open the way for a three-way alliance with Kim Jong-pil?"

Another unexpected answer came from Mr. Park. "We cannot completely rule out that possibility. The three men could support one particular candidate." The question then was whether that was the opinion of Kim Young-sam.

I decided to bait Mr. Park a bit. "Maybe only in your dreams," I said.

Mr. Park suddenly raised his voice. "I had tea with the former president yesterday and had lunch with him today. How could I possibly speak only my own opinion?"

If indeed such a three-way alliance were possible, who might be their candidate of choice?

I was suddenly reminded of Rhee In-je's recent remark that he would embrace the three Kims. There is a long story behind the sudden rapprochement between Mr. Rhee, a senior ruling party official, and Kim Jong-pil, the president of the United Liberal Democrats.

Kim Yoon-hwan, head of the Democratic People's Party, also began talking about Rhee In-je as the candidate he favored.

"Who is Kim Young-sam willing to support - Mr. Rhee?" I asked. Mr. Park gave me a round-about answer, but one thing was clear.

Kim Young-sam believes Lee Hoi-chang should not become president. "When Kim Young-sam says Lee Hoi-chang should not be president, he must have an alternative in mind," Mr. Park said.

"Why then did Kim Young-sam denounce the president?" I asked. "Kim Young-sam is saying the president should apologize soon," Mr. Park answered. In other words, the three men were running out of time.

In the end, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung were probably not seeking a true reconciliation. Their immediate goal is an alliance against Lee Hoi-chang. Reconciliation is a means to that end. A superficial reconciliation therefore would not be very difficult.

The ball is in Kim Dae-jung's court. He needs to make up his mind about whether he wants to join the anti-Lee Hoi-chang alliance.

But the president has promised strict political neutrality to the Korean people. Whether his words and deeds will match remains to be seen.


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The writer is a senior political writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Youn-hong

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