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SKorea's Kim Eyes North Visit

Kim Dae-jung wants to move ahead with the peace process.
by Jong-Heon Lee
Seoul (UPI) Feb 02, 2006
Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung is seeking to visit North Korea and meet its reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il, to break a deadlock in the inter-Korean reconciliation and peace process.

The Seoul government notified Pyongyang last month of the former president's hope to take a cross-border train to North Korea in April, officials said Thursday.

The communist country has yet to respond, but is expected to accept the proposal because Pyongyang has already invited Kim to visit the North. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has also requested that Kim visit Pyongyang.

If realized, Kim's tour is likely to provide a critical momentum to the inter-Korean reconciliation process marred by the years-long nuclear crisis, officials and analysts say.

Kim ventured into the communist country in June 2000 for the first inter-Korean summit with Kim Jong Il, which opened a new era of inter-Korean reconciliation with a milestone agreement.

Under the June 15 summit declaration, the two Koreas launched a series of reconciliation projects highlighted by the reunions of family members separated by the Korean War and reconnection of cross-border railway and roads. Kim Dae-Jung won the Nobel Peace Prize that year for his efforts to improve long-frigid relations with the North.

The summit has led to brisk economic ties across the border, but the rivals have yet to come up with any measures to reduce military tensions on the world's last Cold War frontier, with nearly 2 million troops on both sides.

Under the 2000 summit agreement, Kim Jong Il promised to make a return visit to Seoul, but has yet to carry it out, despite Seoul's repeated calls.

Kim Dae-jung's second meeting with Kim Jong Il is likely to produce a breakthrough to reduce military and political tensions across the border. During the visit, Kim may also reach an agreement on a second summit between the two Koreas.

"The discussion (on the proposed trip) began at the beginning of this year and the preparation team has also started working, so I hope I can visit North Korea during mid or late April," Kim said in an interview with a local daily, the Segye Times on Wednesday.

Kim was cautious about expectations for discussions on the nuclear issue with the North's Kim. "I am not a government envoy, so I am not in a position to make some kind of progress in the six-party nuclear talks. I am only thinking that I must do what I can as a person who wishes for peace on the Korean peninsula," Kim said.

"Chairman (of the National Defense Commission) Kim Jong Il and I must not make any plans prior to our meeting and just make decisions as we speak with each other," he said.

The champion of inter-Korean reconciliation also criticized the United States for making what he sees as groundless allegations that North Korea has counterfeited U.S. dollars -- a charge that could threaten the six-nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program.

"I don't think the United States has secured any direct evidence of the North's alleged counterfeiting," Kim said. "The United States must not press North Korea too hard and raise tensions too high."

If Kim takes a cross-border train to the North, it will be a symbolic event in promoting peace and reconciliation on the peninsula, which is still technically in a state of war with North Korea, as their 1950-53 armed conflict ended without a peace treaty.

Under the 2000 summit agreement, the two Koreas reconnected their railways and roads last year, but the opening has been delayed as Pyongyang remained reluctant, apparently due to security concerns.

"The reason I wish to visit North Korea by train is because I am very interested in the opening of the railway and also because ranking government officials have suggested it would be the best way to travel," he said.

The cross-border railway will reconnect the two Koreas' capitals and proceed on to Sinuiju, a major industrial city on North Korea's border with China. It will link up to China, Mongolia and eventually Russia's trans-Siberian railway, through which South Korea could deliver products to Europe.

The chief of the South Korea National Railroad also plans to visit North Korea to discuss the opening of the cross-border railway.

The Korean Railroad is pushing to run a "World Cup" train service, allowing South Korean soccer fans to travel to Germany through North Korea to watch the football World Cup in June, and which would serve as a highly symbolic event for peace on the peninsula.

Source: United Press International

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