Lee Hee-ho to visit Korea DPR on Aug. 5-8

Kim Sung-jae, director of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center and former culture minister, speaks in a meeting with reporters at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday. (Yonhap)

Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, will take a direct flight over the West Sea to Pyongyang on Aug. 5 for a four-day visit, her aides said Monday after their talks with the North Korean side, raising expectations for her role to thaw frosty inter-Korean relations.

The 93-year-old widow of the former leader, noted for his efforts for cross-border reconciliation and cooperation, is to stay in the Baekhwawon Guesthouse in Pyongyang and visit a child care center, a children’s hospital, the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital and Mount Myohyang, they said.

Lee last visited the North in December 2011 to attend the funeral for former North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il.

“Kim Jong-un, the first chairman of the (North’s) National Defense Commission, has made a proposal for Lee to travel to the North by air in consideration of her health. Lee also agreed to that,” Kim Sung-jae, the director of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center and former culture minister, told reporters as he returned to the South after his talks with North Korean officials in Gaeseong.

“Whether the North would send an airplane to the South or we will use a South Korean plane … this has yet to be determined, and we will have to further discuss it.”

Kim added that the two sides have not reached any decision over whether Lee will meet the North Korean leader during her stay in the communist state. She is thought to have met with Kim during her visit to the North in 2011.

Five officials, including Kim, and the five-member North Korean delegation, led by Maeng Kyong-il, vice chair of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, reached the agreement at a meeting in the North Korean border city.

The meeting followed the previous one held last Tuesday, during which Lee’s side reportedly delivered her wish to visit the North within the month for a four-day trip. Lee has expressed her hopes to deliver relief supplies along with knitted caps and scarves to young children.

Her planned visit has been drawing keen attention as it could help create much-needed momentum to improve the strained relations that have continued to deteriorate due to Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear arms and its provocative rhetoric and actions.

Lee’s visit has been sought since North Korean leader Kim offered a handwritten invitation to her last year. The invitation was delivered after she sent a wreath to Kim last December to mark the third anniversary of the death of his father, former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Lee’s side initially proposed holding talks with Pyongyang in April to arrange her visit to the North. But the North rejected the talks amid cross-border tensions that escalated due in large part to Pyongyang’s angry response to the South Korea-U.S. military drills and other issues.

Inter-Korean tensions have shown no signs of abating.

On Monday, through the Rodong Sinmun, the daily of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, the North threatened to strike South Korea should it set off what it calls “provocations.” It portrayed inter-Korean relations as “coming to a devastating end.”

“South Korea talks of a two-track policy mixing pressure and dialogue, and crazily calls for us to give up our nuclear program,” the daily said. “The gist of the South’s provocative move is a rivalry between the two systems, and its objective is to wage a war to invade the North.”

The establishment on June 23 of a U.N. field office in Seoul to monitor North Korea’s human rights abuses has been drawing the ire of Pyongyang, which has argued that the office is designed to overthrow its regime by politicizing the issue and meddling in domestic affairs.

Inter-Korean ties were further strained after Seoul imposed financial sanctions on June 26 on six Taiwanese individuals and entities and a Syrian institution over suspicions that they traded arms and gave support to the North.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraladcorp.com)

The Korea Herald

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