The widow of former President Kim Dae-jung plans to visit North Korea in early August in a move expected to help improve the strained inter-Korean ties, aides to the late president said Monday.
Lee Hee-ho, 93, who was the South’s first lady during Kim’s five-year tenure until 2003, plans to visit the communist country on Aug. 5-8, arriving via plane, according to officials from the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center.
The announcement came as five representatives from the center returned home earlier in the day after visiting the North’s border city of Kaesong to set the specifics for Lee’s trip.
“We hope that Lee’s visit could serve as a good occasion to help improve inter-Korean relations and promote cooperation,” Kim Sung-jae, an official at the center, told reporters at a checkpoint near the inter-Korean border.
Her itinerary includes a visit to a children’s hospital and a nursery facility in Pyongyang and Mt. Myohyang in North Pyongan Province, north of Pyongyang.
Lee’s planned visit has won much attention amid high prospects that she may meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
But Kim said nothing has been decided over whether Lee could meet with the North’s leader.
The North proposed that the ex-first lady arrive in the country by plane in consideration of her age and health conditions, he added.
The planned visit comes amid chilled inter-Korean ties as the North has sharpened its verbal attacks against the South following the opening of a U.N. field office in Seoul tasked with monitoring Pyongyang’s dismal human rights records.
The North warned that Seoul will face catastrophic fallout in inter-Korean ties due to the U.N. move.
Lee’s late husband was the architect of the “sunshine” policy that actively pushed cross-border exchanges and reconciliation. He held the first inter-Korean summit with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000.
Lee first expressed her wish to visit the North last October to provide knit hats, scarves and clothes to North Korean children, but she had to postpone her trip due to cold winter weather.
She sent a wreath of flowers in December last year to the North to mark the third anniversary of the death of the current leader’s father, Kim Jong-il. In response, the North’s young leader said in a letter that he was “looking forward to having Lee in Pyongyang once the weather got warmer in 2015.”
In April, the peace center made a request for a prior contact over Lee’s visit, but the North rejected it, citing “complex inter-Korean circumstances.” (Yonhap)
The Korea Herald