- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will not visit South Korea until next year, but defense ministers of the two Koreas will meet this month in Hong Kong, diplomats and press reports said yesterday.
South Korea's newly appointed ambassador to Washington, Sung Chul-yang, confirmed yesterday, in a luncheon meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, that Mr. Kim will visit Seoul next year.
"In principle … his coming is promised, but because of busy schedules [of leaders of the North and South] he will visit in the early part of next year."
Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung ended 50 years of hostility between the pro-Western South and the communist North when they met in Pyongyang earlier this year.
It was expected that Kim Jong-il would visit Seoul in November to respond to the visit, which produced a surprising thaw in relations between North and South.
Aside from the explanation by Mr. Sung and by press reports from South Korea that both leaders had busy schedules, there was no further explanation why the meeting was put off for another six months or so.
A South Korean government official said yesterday that the South's defense minister, Cho Sung-tae, and his counterpart in the North, Kim Il-chol, are to meet Sept. 26-29 in Hong Kong, where North Korea recently opened a consulate, according to reporters covering the visit to South Korea this week of a senior North Korean official, Kim Yong-nam.
"The reason that the two sides have opted for Hong Kong as the venue for the defense ministers' talks was that it would be awkward for the top military officials to visit each other's side at this time," the official said, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Mr. Sung said the dates and site of a defense ministers meeting remained uncertain.
If they meet, he said, the South will place on the table proposals for confidence-building measures to take the peace initiatives on the Korean Peninsula one step closer toward a real end to the state of war prevailing since 1950.
South Korea is proposing that:
A military hot line be created to defuse problems.
Each side inform the other side of upcoming military exercises and troop movements.
North Koreans observe South Korean military exercises.
Although the meeting between the two Mr. Kims has led to an outburst of hope that the North will end its Cold War hostility, South Korea's president remains alert to the threat posed by the heavily armed and possibly nuclear-armed North Korea, said the ambassador.
"President Kim [Dae-jung] has no illusions about North Korea it is a totalitarian system," said Mr. Sung.
But just as China, the Soviet Union and Vietnam all dropped or softened their communist, totalitarian regimes in recent years, without military conflict, South Korea hopes the North will gradually change and set up a peace structure that could lead to unification after several years.
Mr. Sung also noted that South Korea hoped to amend the treaty governing the presence of some 35,000 U.S. troops in his country to allow trials in Korea of U.S. servicemen accused of crimes there. Presently, they are tried in U.S. military courts.
He said South Korea's relationship with the United States was its most important one and has been "a model example for any bilateral alliance in the past half century."
He also said that one of the outcomes of the meeting this year between the two leaders soon would take concrete form. Officials from the two sides meet Monday in a ceremony marking the start of reconstruction of a 15-mile gap in a railroad that will link South and North with each other and with Russia.

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