Prelude to a breakthrough

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Prelude to a breakthrough

The Unification Ministry said it granted Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, permission to meet North Koreans, more or less a go-head for her planned visit across the border.

Inter-Korean contact on the civilian level has been restricted to select international or religious bodies since the deadly North Korean attacks on a South Korean naval ship and an island in 2010. This is the first time the Park Geun-hye government has allowed an individual to visit North Korea by a politically-symbolic figure like the former first lady.

It also underscores Seoul’s consistent message that it is open to dialogue, even as Pyongyang has reacted vehemently to an anti-North Korean leaflet campaign by South Korean civic groups and has started acting unreliably, shifting back and forth between reconciliation and hostility.

Lee’s visit is entirely for humanitarian purposes. Lee, who was a guest at the Blue House last month, told President Park that she knitted hats and mufflers for North Korean children, hoping it would be a small comfort to North Korean children living in harsh living conditions during the winter.

It would be a warm scene indeed if Lee would be able to personally deliver more than 10,000 woolen mufflers knitted by members of “Friends of Love,” a nonprofit organization that helps people in distress founded by Lee.

But her visit should not be a one-time event. It should open up a new beginning to reconciliatory and cooperative exchanges between the two Koreas. North Korea must stop playing games and be responsible and sincere about dialogue. It should first welcome Lee’s visit.

Kim Yang-gon, secretary of the Workers’ Party and director of the United Front Department who oversees South Korean affairs, already said Lee was welcome to Pyongyang anytime when he greeted aides of the late President Kim. The aides were invited to the North in August to receive a wreath from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of the former South Korean president, who held the first-ever inter-Korean summit with Kim’s father.

Lee, 92, met the younger Kim when she visited Pyongyang with Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun as a diplomatic guest to pay condolences when Kim Jong-il died in 2011. If the North Korean leader approves and personally greets the senior guest from South Korea, he would be making an important gesture that could serve as a breakthrough in inter-Korean ties.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 7, Page 34

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