- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

SEOUL President Kim Dae-jung returned triumphantly to Seoul Thursday after a three-day summit in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, which broke new ground in attempting to solve long-standing problems between the two states.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Seoul, cheering and waving flags, to give the South Korean leader a rapturous welcome as he drove to the presidential Blue House. It was a mirror image of the throngs that greeted him in the North's capital on Tuesday.

In his speech upon his return, the president disclosed he had discussed sensitive security issues with his host, among them the presence of 37,000 U.S. troops on the border with North Korea.

"We talked about nuclear and missile issues. The issue of the U.S. forces stationed in the South also cropped up," he said, adding that the two leaders also discussed South Korea's controversial National Security Law, which is used frequently to crack down on leftists and North Korean sympathizers.

Kim Dae-jung offered no details.

In fact, few concrete results were announced. The major agreement, pushed by the South's president, was a reunion scheduled Aug. 15 for families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War.

But the two sides pledged to confer seriously on a dozen or more points, ranging from exchanges in several fields to restoration of railway lines across their common border, known as the Demilitarized Zone.

Back home, Kim Dae-jung basked in the acclaim of global leaders and his own people for an accord he signed in Pyongyang that, if implemented, would coax the communist North out of its self-imposed isolation and help rebuild its withered economy.

Most countries hailed the agreement, toasted with champagne just before midnight on Wednesday, as a step toward building confidence and economic ties between two estranged neighbors.

"As in the case of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the agreement constitutes a major change toward peace," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said in an election campaign speech.

Beijing, a major backer of the North Korean regime, offered congratulations to both sides.

"China heartily rejoices at the success of the summit and wishes to express its congratulations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said.

The United States reacted more cautiously. It welcomed the agreement but noted that, as expected, it did not tackle the possible threat from North Korea's long-range missiles.

At the White House, President Clinton said he hoped that both sides "will continue down this promising path."

He said the summit "marks an initial, hopeful step toward peace and reconciliation."

A South Korean legislator said, "The president emphasized the need for North Korea to normalize its relations with neighboring countries by resolving the missile issue at an early date."

There was no indication if there was a response to this from the North.

Much was made of the positive psychological image projected by the North's leader, the son and successor of communist founder Kim Il-sung. In just three days, his image changed from a hermit and recluse who despised the limelight to that of a genial, good-humored host.

When Kim Dae-jung's trip home Thursday was switched from automobile to airplane at the last moment, Kim Jong-il was at his side to see him off.

It was a repeat performance of his arrival at the airport Monday to greet his South Korean counterpart.

Together they saluted thousands of people who gathered at the airport shouting "Long Life" and waving paper flowers. The two leaders hugged and shook hands before Kim Dae-Jung climbed up the steps to his plane.

The week clearly belonged to Kim Dae-jung. It was the centerpiece, so far, of his "sunshine policy," as he has called his efforts to coax North Korea out of isolation.

Some say he gave too much away in achieving a summit. Time will tell on that one; his work succeeded, at least, in quieting for a time the boisterous and factional South Korean National Assembly.

Kim Dae-jung became the first leader from the South in 50 years to set foot in the North.

Skepticism remains on what the summit accomplished.

But Kim Byong-kuk, chairman of the Seoul Institute of International Economics, said the critics are too hasty.

"Sure, there is plenty to do from now on, plenty of gaps in the accords. But give us a break; we've waited for this summit and we want to savor the moment."

Rep. Chung Dong-young, spokesman for Kim Dae-jung's Millennium Democratic Party, said, "Koreans have the chance to turn the Korean Peninsula into a hub of peace in Northeast Asia."

He added, "Kim Jong-il's pledge to make a return visit to Seoul is of special importance as well."

President Kim plans to explain the outcome of the historic summit talks with the North Korean leader during a Cabinet meeting Friday.

As a follow-up to the North-South Joint Declaration that the two leaders signed in a midnight ceremony, the South's government announced Thursday the two sides were studying new measures to prevent an accidental war, including setting up a military hot line.

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