- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

SEOUL As ping-pong diplomacy helped Washington and Beijing warm to each other a generation ago, some in South Korea are looking at the World Cup as a potential icebreaker for leaders of the two Koreas at their upcoming summit.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il are slated to meet in Pyongyang June 12-14 a first-ever summit between the two rivals and one item high on the agenda will be soccer's 2002 World Cup.

"The World Cup will be a topic for sure," said Kim Kee-hyun, spokesman for the Korean Organizing Committee for the upcoming global soccer championship.

For the first time, two nations, South Korea and Japan, will share the World Cup as co-hosts. Now, South Korea is looking for ways to include the North in what has become one of the world's premier sporting events.

"We've been told to prepare talking papers," Mr. Kim said. He speaks from an insider's viewpoint.

His job until last month was as an aide to Culture and Tourism Minister Park Jie-won, who was the special envoy who led negotiations with North Korean representatives in Beijing and in Shanghai that led to the summit announcement.

Agendas and procedures for the historic meeting of the two leaders will not be fully fixed until working level meetings take place later this month.

The significance of soccer as a summit topic, analysts say, is that it could prove more workable than other issues dividing the two rivals items such as the reunion of long-separated relatives, investment, travel and mutual disarmament.

Seoul offered to let Pyongyang host some events in the 1988 Olympics, but that attempt ended in discord.

South Korea's president, Kim Dae-jung, has made rapprochement with the North a centerpiece of his foreign policy, perhaps even his legacy, should his efforts prove successful.

Spokesman Kim, who heads one unit in the Korean World Cup organizing committee, conceded that making arrangements for North Korean participation would be a "headache" at this late date.

Half of the World Cup matches are scheduled for South Korea and half for Japan. The opening ceremony and game will be at Seoul's Olympic Stadium, venue of the 1988 Summer Games.

But academics and diplomats agree that the upcoming summit followed by some North Korean participation in the World Cup would be a feather in the president's cap.

In South Korea, the opposition Grand National Party accuses President Kim of manipulating events in an attempt to pick up support in tomorrow's parliamentary elections.

"The inter-Korean summit must have been arranged at an exorbitant cost. People have the right to know what kind of burden they should bear in return for the summit," said Rep. Hong Sa-duk, chief campaign manager for the opposition Grand National Party.

But President Kim, who has no shortage of ideas, also would like to arrange to have Japanese Emperor Akihito visit South Korea during the World Cup.

" 'The Kim D.J. Scenario,' as it's known around Seoul, is for North and South to reunite, Emperor Akihito to visit Korea to heal old colonial wounds, and President Kim wins the Nobel Peace Prize," said a Western diplomat speaking on the basis of anonymity.

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