- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2000

SEOUL President Kim Dae-jung arrived in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, today to the welcome of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, kicking off the first inter-Korean meeting since the peninsula was divided into a communist North and Western-oriented South at the end of World War II.

The two leaders shook hands after Kim Dae-jung's plane landed at the airport at 10:25 a.m. and then stood side by side on the reviewing stand as North Korean military men, including a military band in whites, marched smartly past, pooled TV reports showed.

To reach Pyongyang, the South Korean leader's plane had to detour over the sea during a 70-minute trip. There is no direct air travel between the Korean capitals and hundreds of thousands of soldiers are deployed on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which separates the North and South.

The South wants the North to agree to reunions of separated families, a summit sequel in Seoul and other conciliatory gestures in exchange for resources to rebuild the communist nation's dilapidated economy. North Korea, which suffered a deadly famine in the late 1990s, relies on food aid from its traditional foes, South Korea, Japan and the United States.

However, reunification is likely to be a lengthy process. There are a host of touchy issues to resolve, among them North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, and the U.S. military presence in South Korea.

The Kims were not going to hold an official summit meeting today, the U.S. Asian News Agency, specializing in Korean affairs, reported.

The dispatch from Pyongyang, monitored in Tokyo, quoted high-ranking North Korean officials as saying the two leaders had an opportunity to speak with each other for about 20 minutes during a limousine ride from Sunan airport.

The report also said this evening's banquet would be hosted by Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and North Korea's No. 2 leader.

Kim Dae-jung is accompanied by 130 businessmen and officials, as well as by 50 South Korean journalists. Foreign reporters were excluded from the trip.

Before leaving for the North, Kim Dae-jung said in a departure speech at a military airport outside of Seoul that he hoped the trip to Pyongyang "will be on a path toward peace and reconciliation."

"I hope that it will be a turning point in efforts to remove threats to war and terminate the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula so that all 70 million Korean people in the South and North can live in peace," he said.

In a sign of the lingering animosity between the Koreas, South Korean and U.S. forces south of the world's most heavily fortified border were to remain on a strict military footing throughout Kim Dae-jung's three day stay in the North, said officials.

Leaders of South Korea and North Korea have not met since the two countries were founded in 1948 in the Cold War's infancy. Animosity and suspicion remain fresh a half-century after the communist North, backed by the Soviet Union and joined by Chinese troops, fought the pro-Western South and its U.S.-led allies.

The 1950-53 Korean War left millions dead, injured or missing. Its legacy lingers most vividly at the DMZ, a buffer area that separates hundreds of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces on both sides of the border.

North Korea signed a cease-fire agreement in July 1953, but not a formal peace treaty, leaving the two sides technically at war.

The summit is being closely watched by the United States, China and Russia. The United States has 37,000 troops in South Korea and is its main international backer. China and the former Soviet Union were the main Cold War supporters of North Korea.

Chief presidential Press Secretary Park Joon-young, in a departure briefing yesterday, said, "President Kim's expecting that his trip to Pyongyang will be the first step on a long path toward reconciliation and cooperation, and prosperity and unification by liquidating the inter-Korean relations of tense confrontation."

Kim Dae-jung, looking back on the history of the Korean people "believes that the enormous suffering and trials the Korean people have experienced over 100 years were because of the wrong choices made by our ancestors at the turning of the 20th century," Mr. Park said.

He believes the division of the country and 55 years of confrontation and conflict resulted in loss and sacrifices suffered by the people.

The openness of the South as it approached the momentous encounter contrasted with the North's secrecy about the visit. The summit was scheduled to begin yesterday, but North Korea requested a one-day delay for "unavoidable technical reasons."

The North's failure to clearly explain the delay prompted a flurry of speculation in South Korean media. The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's biggest newspaper, said North Koreans might have been checking the safety of Kim Dae-jung's flight path to Pyongyang.

South Korean media also suggested that North Korean officials were upset over South Korean reports speculating on the schedule of the three-day summit. The two leaders are expected to attend state dinners together, but the North has not released the itinerary.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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