North Korean leader Kim Jong-un turned down a request by the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung for a meeting during her recent cross-border visit, an official who joined the trip said Sunday.
Lee Hee-ho, 93, returned home Saturday without meeting Kim Jong-un, who had invited her to North Korea earlier this year.
The official, on the condition of anonymity, said Lee asked for a meeting with Kim, but her request was rejected.
“We made the trip hoping to have talks with Kim Jong-un, and it’s quite disappointing that they didn’t happen,” the official said. “Still, Lee conveyed the message that the Koreas need to talk and cooperate with each other, and I think that alone is a major accomplishment.”
The official said there were “many reasons” that the meeting never materialized but declined to specify further.
The official also thanked his North Korean counterparts for hosting Lee and her delegation. When the South Koreans arrived at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, they were escorted through the special gate reserved for VIPs, and an ambulance was also handy in case the elderly ex-first lady became sick.
“Lee had lunch with her family after coming home and is now staying at her home,” the official added. “She had a busy schedule, but she’s doing well.”
The South Korean government, which had insisted that Lee was traveling in a personal capacity and didn’t ask her to deliver any government message, has faced some criticism that it didn’t try hard enough to make the Lee-Kim talks happen.
A Unification Ministry official, however, countered on Sunday that it was Pyongyang that didn’t seem interested in such a meeting in the first place.
“Contrary to our expectations here, North Korea might not have given any thought to Kim’s meeting with Lee from the beginning,”
the ministry official said. “From the preparatory stages (of the trip), North Korea didn’t take much initiative. If we had asked Lee to deliver our message, it would have put a burden on North Korea and set us up for a major disappointment if the talks didn’t take place.”
Another government official said: “It’s not appropriate to measure the success of Lee’s visit just on whether she met Kim Jong-un. If anything, it takes away from the significance of her trip.” (Yonhap)
The Korea Herald