Seoul (UPI) Aug 23, 2005
In inter-Korean contacts amid lingering nuclear tensions, a group of progressive lawmakers from South Korea embarked Tuesday upon a five-day visit to the communist North.
The visit by the opposition Democratic Labor Party delegation, which comes at the invitation of the North's minor Social Democratic Party, marked the first official exchange of political parties between the two Koreas since the 1950-53 Korean War.
"We now take the first step of exchanges between political parties of North and South Korea," the 20-member delegation from the left-leaning anti-U.S. party said in a statement upon arrival at Pyongyang airport.
The visitors attended a dinner hosted by Kim Yong Dae, head of the SDP and also the vice president of the Presidium of the North's parliament of Supreme People's Assembly.
The DLP delegates, who include 4 lawmakers, are to hold a series of discussions with North Koreans on ways to hold regular parliamentary meetings and expand the exchanges of politicians, party officials said. The two parties also plan to discuss ways to achieve the reunification of the peninsula without foreign influence before they return home on Saturday, they said.
Kim Hye-kyong, chairwoman of the LDP who is leading the delegation, said she would use the "historic" visit to pave the way for parliamentary cooperation to promote cross-border reconciliation and cooperation.
"We hope our visit will help arrange regular South-North parliamentary meetings. We believe cooperation between political parties from both sides is very important in bringing permanent peace to the peninsula," she told a news conference before leaving for Pyongyang.
LDP officials said the delegates are trying to arrange a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during their stay in Pyongyang. The North Korean leader has often held meetings with visiting South Koreans apparently for political purposes such as economic aid or forging a joint stance against the United States.
In another move to push for parliamentary exchanges with the North, Seoul's ruling Uri Party invited the North's ruling Workers' Party to the International Conference of Asian Political Parties to be hosted by Seoul in September next year, party officials said.
"Earlier this month, we asked the Workers' Party to participate in next year's ICAPP," said Rep. Kim Myung-ja, who leads the party's organizing committee for the biennial event. The Uri Party expects more than 600 representatives of 90 political parties from 35 Asian countries to take part in the four-day event to be held under the theme of "Peace and Prosperity in Asia."
But some analysts raise concerns South Korea could be involved by Pyongyang's longstanding "united front tactics" aimed at rallying North Korean sympathizers in the South and driving a wedge in the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
North Korea, ruled by the Workers' Party, has two nominal opposition parties -- the Korean Social Democratic Party and the Chondoist Chongu Party, but they are controlled by the Kim Jong Il regime and mainly used for political propaganda.
The North's state-run social organizations have also arranged exchanges with Seoul's civic organizations, a move seemed also aimed at forming a united front against the United States, which "is hampering Korean reconciliation."
Earlier this month, North Korea sent a high-profile delegation that include Kim's close aide and social organization leaders to Seoul for joint celebrations of the anniversary of the Korean peninsula's liberation from 36 years of Japanese colonial rule on Aug. 15, 1945.
The North Koreans' visit, highlighted by their unprecedented tribute to the National Cemetery in Seoul where tens of thousands of South Korean war dead are buried, has stirred up a fever of reconciliation and reunification with the communist neighbor, fueling the ideological division splitting South Korea.
Last week, Seoul allowed North Korean cargo vessels to voyage in the South's southern waters. It was the first time North Korean ships officially used South Korean sea routes, which shows burgeoning inter-Korean military cooperation.
Militaries from the two sides set up their first cross-border hotline and conducted a trial run earlier this month in an effort to avoid accidental armed clashes.
Upbeat about the brisk cross-border contacts, Seoul officials are reaching out to the United States to ease its stance against North Korea to resolve the nuclear standoff, risking a major split in opinion between Seoul and Washington in the nuclear negotiations.
President Roh Moo-hyun backed North Korea's desire for civilian nuclear power plants, a demand rejected by the United States due to Pyongyang's failure to restrict such a program to peaceful purposes in the past.
"Our principal position is that all countries have the right to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," Roh said told senior journalists. "North Korea also has that right if it gains trust from the international community," he said.
Earlier Unification Minister Chung Dong-young also sided with North Korea by saying the communist country should be given the right to peaceful nuclear activities.
Seoul dispatched senior officials to Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, and Moscow to find ways to end the nuclear standoff during a recess of six-nation nuclear talks that remain deadlocked over Pyongyang's call for peaceful nuclear activities.
Negotiators from the six nations -- South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan -- resume talks on Aug. 29 in Beijing over the North's nuclear programs after a three-week recess.
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US, North Korea Make Third Contact To Break Nuclear Impasse
Washington (AFP) Aug 23, 2005
The United States and North Korea held direct talks Monday for the third time in a week ahead of a resumption of multilateral negotiations aimed at ending the Stalinist state's nuclear weapons program.
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