- The Washington Times - Monday, August 24, 2009

SEOUL | In death as in life, Kim Dae-jung managed to bring the two rival Koreas together.

Hours before his funeral Sunday, North Korean officials who were dispatched to Seoul to pay their respects to the Nobel Peace Prize winner held talks with South Korea’s president — the first high-level inter-Korean contact after many months of tension.

They relayed a message about bilateral relations from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during a half hour of “serious and amicable” talks with President Lee Myung-bak, Mr. Lee’s spokesman said.

It was a fitting breakthrough on a day of mourning for a man who made history by traveling to Pyongyang in 2000 to meet with Kim Jong-il for the first summit between leaders of the two countries.

“Farewell, Mr. Sunshine,” read yellow placards held up by mourners who packed the plaza outside City Hall on Sunday to watch a broadcast of his funeral at the National Assembly. Mr. Kim died Tuesday at the age of 83.

The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty. Tanks and troops still guard the heavily fortified demilitarized zone bisecting the peninsula.

Kim Dae-jung, however, was respected on both sides of the border. As president from 1998 to 2003, he advocated a “Sunshine Policy” of engaging the isolated North and sought to ease reconciliation by plying the impoverished nation with aid.

During the Pyongyang summit in 2000, the two Mr. Kims pledged to embark on an era of peace on the Korean peninsula and raised their hands aloft in a sight that would have been unimaginable just years earlier.

Reconciliation projects blossomed in the subsequent years. They included emotional temporary reunions of thousands of family members separated by the Korean War, the restoration of a cross-border cargo train and inter-Korean business ventures.

Some criticized the flow of money to North Korea, which has evaded years of international pressure to dismantle its nuclear program.

Relations have been tense since Mr. Lee, a conservative, took office in February 2008, abandoning the Sunshine Policy and insisting that North Korea prove its commitment to international nuclear disarmament pacts before it can expect aid.

Pyongyang, in response, ditched the reconciliation talks and most of the inter-Korean projects and routinely excoriated Mr. Lee in state media as “scum” and a “traitor” to Korean reconciliation.

The North also has been locked in an international standoff with the U.S. and other nations over its atomic ambitions after launching a rocket, test-firing missiles and conducting an underground nuclear test this year.

However, there have been signs the tensions may be easing. After welcoming former President Bill Clinton during his mission to secure the release of two jailed American reporters, the North freed a South Korean citizen held for four months. Pyongyang also said it would allow some joint projects to resume.

Kim Dae-jung’s death prompted condolences from Kim Jong-il, who authorized the high-level delegation of six to pay their respects — the first time the North has sent officials to mourn a South Korean president.

Led by senior Workers’ Party official Kim Ki-nam and spy chief Kim Yang-gon, the delegation went straight to the National Assembly mourning site Friday to leave a wreath on behalf of Kim Jong-il and bow before Kim’s portrait.

Extending their trip by a day, three North Korean officials met Sunday morning with Mr. Lee, relaying Kim Jong-il’s thoughts on “progress on inter-Korean cooperation,” presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said. He declined to quote the exact message, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

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