- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

SEOUL — South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, his government in disarray, vowed yesterday to maintain efforts to engage North Korea, warning that "history will backtrack" if war breaks out on the divided peninsula.
Mr. Kim was under renewed domestic pressure to scale back his trademark "Sunshine Policy" toward the communist North, with his 22-member Cabinet offering to resign after a parliamentary vote against a key aide.
The National Assembly voted Monday for the dismissal of Unification Minister Lim Dong-won, who had been criticized by opposition lawmakers as being too lenient toward the North's government.
Despite the setback, the president said his engagement policy offered the best hope for peace between two nations that have prepared for another conflict ever since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Both Koreas maintain a heavy concentration of troops and firepower along the Demilitarized Zone, a buffer zone on their sealed border, and the United States keeps 37,000 troops in the South as a deterrent against the North.
"If war breaks out in a situation like this, the two sides will be certain to perish together. Then our history will backtrack," chief presidential spokesman Park Joon-young quoted Mr. Kim as saying at a meeting with religious leaders.
"I will continue to try to improve ties with North Korea," Mr. Kim said.
The impoverished North largely dropped its belligerent rhetoric toward the South after an inter-Korean summit last year that led to a series of exchanges, including reunions of separated family members and an agreement to reconnect a cross-border railway.
Talks stalled in March because of tension between North Korea and the United States.
Over the weekend, North Korea offered to resume talks with the South. During a visit to Pyongyang this week, Chinese President Jiang Zemin urged the reclusive country to pursue ties with South Korea, the United States and Japan, Chinese state media said.
But Mr. Kim, whose rapprochement with the North helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize last year, was likely to find it more difficult to gain parliamentary approval for initiatives with the North.
Opposition leaders view the Sunshine Policy as a one-sided appeasement that has seldom been reciprocated by the North.
A year ago, South Korea repatriated 63 North Korean ex-spies and rebels in a goodwill gesture. Opposition leaders criticized South Korea's government for not demanding that the North respond by returning POWs and other Southerners believed held there.
"The president now must respect and listen to the big opposition party and adopt the right policies on North Korea and domestic issues," the Yonhap news agency quoted Kim Ki-bae, secretary-general of the main opposition Grand National Party, as saying.
The parliamentary vote against Mr. Lim, a former intelligence chief who helped arrange the June 2000 meeting between Mr. Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, split the South Korean president's ruling coalition.
The government's junior partner, the United Liberal Democrats, sided with the opposition in demanding Mr. Lim's ouster. Prime Minister Lee Han-dong and four other Cabinet members are United Liberal Democrats.
The entire Cabinet then submitted resignations, allowing the president, head of the Millennium Democratic Party, a free hand in reorganizing his ruling lineup.


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