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2009/08/27 10:35 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 69 (August 27, 2009)


N. Korean Delegation Pays Visit to President Lee Myung-bak

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean delegation paid a visit to President Lee Myung-bak at Cheong Wa Dae on Aug. 23 to discuss the stalled inter-Korean relations. The delegation led by Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the North's ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, came to Seoul on Aug. 21 to pay respects to the late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

   The delegation delivered a verbal message from their leader Kim Jong-il about advancing bilateral cooperation between the two Koreas. The exchange of communications between the leaders of South and North Korea through the North's envoy is the first since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak administration in early last year.

   "The North Korean delegation delivered Chairman Kim's verbal message regarding progress in inter-Korean relations," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan told reporters. He declined to elaborate "because of its sensitivity."

   "In response, President Lee explained the consistent and firm principles of the government's North Korea policy and asked his message to be relayed to Chairman Kim," he said. Three envoys including chief delegate Kim Ki-nam, a key aide to Kim Jong-il, were present at Lee's first meeting with North Korean officials.

   The six-member North Korean delegation arrived in Seoul on Aug. 21 and included Kim Yang-gon, the top official of the Workers' Party in charge of inter-Korean relations. He and South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Aug. 22 held the first high-level inter-Korean talks in nearly two years.

   Upon their arrival in Seoul, the North Korean delegation paid tribute to the late South Korean president and offered a wreath and observed a moment of silence at a packed memorial altar set up at the National Assembly square. "Commemorating former President Kim Dae-jung, who followed justice and conscience to leave an indelible legacy to the Korean people," Kim Ki-nam wrote in the guestbook at the altar.

   The meeting raised prospects for improvement of inter-Korean relations, which have soured since Lee's inauguration in February 2008. The delegates expressed satisfaction with the meeting. "Everything was all right," Kim, secretary of the Workers' Party, told reporters after the meeting. "We are leaving with a good feeling," he said while heading for Gimpo Airport to return to the North after a three-day trip.

   They were originally scheduled to leave on Aug. 22, but asked for a meeting with the president to deliver the message. Lee's spokesman said the session proceeded with a "sincere and gentle" atmosphere. "There will be no problems that cannot be resolved if the South and the North genuinely try to resolve problems through dialogue," Lee was quoted as saying.

   "The North Koreans said they hope the two sides will resolve all the (pertinent) issues through cooperation," the spokesman added. A presidential official said the North Korea's nuclear program and other pending inter-Korean issues including its detention of South Korean fishermen were not specifically discussed at the meeting. The two governments will have working-level talks to resolve practical issues, he added.

   President Lee and the North Koreans met for 30 minutes, twice as long as what was allotted in his meetings with other foreign delegations who attended the former leader's funeral. In-depth discussions were conducted during an 80-minute meeting between Hyun and his counterpart the previous day as well as a subsequent dinner he hosted for all the six delegates.

   "While meeting many South Koreans here, I came to believe that inter-Korean ties must be improved at the earliest possible date," Kim Yang-gon was quoted as saying at the meeting. "We've had little opportunity to talk ... I hope that these first high-level official talks under the Lee Myung-bak administration will provide a chance to have frank talks," he told the unification minister.

   In his Liberation Day address on Aug. 15, President Lee proposed dialogue on "what it will take for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons." "My administration is ready to start talks and cooperate with the North on all issues between us, at any time, at any level," he added. His aides said Lee is optimistic about meeting Kim Jong-il at some future date, but only when certain conditions are met -- including an agreement by the North to give up its nuclear ambitions.

   Seoul officials said now is not the right time for a summit, given the North's nuclear test in May and the uncertain state of the six-party denuclearization talks. But recent signs of improvement in Pyongyang's relationship with Seoul and Washington emboldened calls among liberals for the highest level of dialogue to help break the impasse and reestablish inter-Korean ties.

   Seoul officials were, however, displeased that North Korea shunned the government when it contacted the private organization honoring the late president to arrange their visit to Seoul. The Seoul government was also left out in the cold when the North Korean leader promised on Aug. 16 to resume inter-Korean tourism programs during a meeting with Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of South Korea's Hyundai Group.

   Some officials said these moves were aimed at cornering the Lee administration and creating the appearance that the government did nothing in the reconciliation process. "The government's consistent position is that we can meet and talk anytime and anyplace, but we will not have a dialogue in a way that plays into the other's hands or on a tactical dimension to change the conjuncture in relations with North Korea," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.

   Presidential officials expressed hopes that the two governments will follow up with talks to resolve practical issues. The inter-Korean summit in 2000 between the two Kims opened a flurry of inter-Korean exchanges and joint business opportunities.

   Most of them have been suspended due to political tension since Lee took office in early 2008. "Even after his death, President Kim Dae-jung is laying the bridge over the troubled inter-Korean ties," said former unification minister Chung Dong-young after he met with the North Korean visitors. Kim Ki-nam, the North's chief delegate, expressed hope the two Koreas bury legacies of the Cold War, put the past behind them and make a new start.