Kim Jong-un rejects Lee Hee-ho meeting request: official

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

Lee Hee-ho fails to meet Kim Jong-un

Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, returned home Saturday without the much-anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, dashing hopes for a breakthrough in cross-border relations.

Her failure to hold the meeting — which had been expected by some as the Seoul government had discounted her trip as a personal one — reconfirmed Kim’s poor diplomatic skills, analysts said, noting that his ineptitude was also demonstrated by his refusal to attend Russia’s 70th anniversary celebration in May of its victory in World War II, a rare diplomatic chance for the secluded ruler.

Lee Hee-ho hugs a child during her visit to Aeyukone, an orphanage for kindergarteners in Pyongyang last Thursday. Kim Dae-jung Peace Center
The 93-year-old widow of the former president, who was noted for his inter-Korean reconciliation efforts, returned after four days of visiting orphanages, hospitals for children and mothers with newborn babies in Pyongyang, Mount Myohyangsan north of the capital, and other facilities.
Apparently anticipating questions on her failure to meet Kim, Lee stressed that her trip was a personal one without any official mission given to her.
“As a civilian myself, I was not given any official task to fulfill for this trip, but I carried out all my (personal) plans with a sense of duty to contribute to the spirits of the June 15 inter-Korean declaration,” she said during a press conference upon arrival at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul.
She was referring to the declaration signed in 2000 during an inter-Korean summit between her husband and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
“While holding hands of pure-looking children at orphanages in Pyongyang I visited, I thought deeply again that we should not pass down the pains of division to the next generation,” she added.
Lee’s side reportedly made a request to the North for her talks with Kim, but it was not accepted.
As criticism rose of the Seoul’s “passive attitude” over arranging the meeting between Lee and Kim, a senior official of Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that it was Pyongyang that was not “enthusiastic” in setting up the meeting.
“From the beginning stage when each side was preparing for her trip, there was no enthusiasm (about arranging the meeting) on the part of the North,” he told reporters. “The reason why we characterized her trip as personal is that should the meeting not be organized, there would be repercussions.”
During her stay in the North, she was greeted and accompanied by officials from the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee handling inter-Korean affairs, including Maeng Kyong-il, the committee’s vice chairman and vice-ministerial official.
Upon her arrival in Pyongyang, Maeng delivered Kim’s welcoming message verbally to Lee. But Kim did not offer any handwritten message to her, nor did he meet her face to face, even though he himself invited her late last year.
During a reception hosted by Lee’s side at Mount Myohyang Hotel on Friday, Lee asked Maeng to tell Kim that she was grateful to him for inviting her to the North. She also expressed her sadness about failing to meet him, her aides said.
To recognize the visit by the widow of former President Kim, who was once credited with promoting cross-border cooperation with his signature “Sunshine Policy,” the North Korean leader should have at least sent Kim Yang-gon, the North’s top official in charge of inter-Korean relations, to visit Lee, observers noted.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the local think tank Sejong Institute, said Kim’s refusal to meet Lee highlighted his lack of diplomatic finesse.
“His lack of diplomatic finesse was also confirmed when he refused to meet the visiting Mongolian president in 2013 and to attend the war victory celebration in Russia, which might have been a very crucial chance to improve the North’s external relations,” he said.
“I am not sure whether he is following his father’s footsteps: His father began summit diplomacy six years after the death of his father and national founder Kim Il-sung. This, anyway, would serve as a factor to deepen the North’s international isolation.”
On Wednesday, Lee took a direct flight over the West Sea to Pyongyang, using South Korean low-cost carrier Eastar Jet. It was her third visit to the North following the first during the inter-Korean summit in 2000 and the second in 2011 for the funeral of the former North Korean leader.
By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
The Korea Herald

Ex-first lady embarks on schedule for Day 2 in Korea DPR

The widow of former President Kim Dae-jung visited facilities for orphans and the elderly in North Korea Thursday, but it is not immediately known whether she is able to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, her aides said.

Lee Hee-ho, 93, who was the South’s first lady during Kim’s five-year tenure until 2003, arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday for a four-day visit, hoping that her rare trip could pave the way for inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation in a landmark year.

Earlier in the day, she visited the homes for children and the elderly in Pyongyang and she will later leave for Mount Myohyang in North Pyongan Province, about a three hours’ drive north of the capital, according to the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, the organizer of the trip.

(Yonhap)

But it is still not clear whether she will meet with the North’s leader who invited Lee to visit.

Lee’s visit is in the spotlight on the hopes that it may help ease lingering tension on the divided peninsula, sparked by the North’s nuclear and missile tests. The two Koreas have not held high-level talks since February 2014.

As her visit to the North is for humanitarian purposes, Lee delivered knitted scarves and medicine to North Korean children, according to the peace center.

There is still the expectation that she could deliver a message of peace and reconciliation if she meets with the North’s young leader during her visit, experts say.

Lee’s late husband, who died in 2009, was the architect of the “sunshine” policy that actively pushed for cross-border exchanges and reconciliation. He held the first inter-Korean summit with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000. At that time, she accompanied her husband to Pyongyang.

She briefly met with the North’s current leader in December 2011 when she visited Pyongyang to pay tribute upon the death of his father Kim Jong-il. But the trip was limited to offering condolences and no other matters were discussed at that time.

The two Koreas are set to celebrate Liberation Day which falls on Aug. 15 to mark the 70th anniversary of their liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

But it is highly likely that the two sides will not hold a joint event to celebrate the anniversary.

The North has rejected the South’s proposal for inter-Korean talks, calling on Seoul to end its joint military exercise with Washington and lift its economic sanctions against the North. (Yonhap)

 

The Korea Herald

Lee Hee-ho visit to Korea DPR raises hope for cross-border thaw

Flag of North Korea.svg

 

Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, will embark on a four-day trip to North Korea on Wednesday, amid high expectations that her visit would set the mood for a thaw in the frosty cross-border relations.

The 93-year-old widow of the former leader, noted for his efforts for inter-Korean reconciliation, will fly over the West Sea to Pyongyang via South Korean low-cost carrier Eastar Jet. Lee last visited the North in December 2011 to attend the funeral for former North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il.

Her itinerary includes a nursery, children’s hospital, maternity hospital in Pyongyang and Mount Myohyang, north of the capital. Her 19-member delegation includes former Culture Minister Kim Sung-jae and Paik Nak-chung, professor emeritus at Seoul National University.

No schedule has been set yet for her meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

But the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, which organized her trip, thinks that she will likely meet Kim considering that he offered a handwritten invitation to her late last year after she sent condolence flowers to him on the occasion of the third anniversary of the death of his father.

Should she meet him, Lee is likely to deliver to Kim her wishes for improvement in the bilateral relationship that has been strained due to Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear arms and its provocative behavior, and Seoul’s hard-line response to them.

Lee has repeatedly expressed her hopes for addressing cross-border tensions during her recent meetings with high-profile politicians and government officials including Seoul’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it was not considering asking Lee to deliver its message to the North Korean side.

“Lee’s trip to the North is a personal one. Her trip itself is very meaningful, but we are not considering sending any special message to the North through Lee,” said the ministry’s deputy spokesperson Park Soo-jin told reporters.

Major political parties alike here expressed their hopes that her trip will help the two Koreas find a “breakthrough” in the deadlocked inter-Korean relations.

“We hope that her trip will serve as an opportunity to reignite the flames of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation,” said Kim Young-woo, spokesperson for the ruling Saenuri Party.

Kim Sung-soo, spokesperson for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said the government should more actively utilize her trip to the North to address the inter-Korean stalemate, rather than discounting her trip only as a personal affair.

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

The Korea Herald

 

 

Pyongyang threatens to cancel Lee Hee-ho visit to Korea DPR

Flag of North Korea.svg

North Korea sternly warned Wednesday that it might nullify a plan by the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung to visit the North in early August if South Korea continues to make provocations against Pyongyang.

The warning by the North came just two days after civilian representatives from the two Koreas agreed on Lee Hee-ho’s, 93, plans to fly to the communist country on Aug. 5 for a four-day trip.

The Joseon Asia-Pacific Peace Committee involved in talks for Lee’s visit said that conservative media in the South have made “provocations” by reporting that the North is trying to use Lee’s visit politically.

“South Korea should know that the agreement for Lee’s planned visit is tentative…If South Korea continues to make provocations, an opportunity that Lee could visit the North could be missed,”

said an unidentified spokesman from the committee.

The spokesman said that whether Lee will be able to make a trip to Pyongyang depends on South Korea.

The warning came amid high hopes that if Lee’s visit is realized, the move is likely to help ease the strained inter-Korean ties. (Yonhap)

The Korea Herald

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

Lee Hee-ho to visit Korea DPR in early August

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