- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 14 (UPI) — South Korean President Kim Dae-jung offered a public apology Friday for allegations that he bought a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000 with cash payments to impoverished North Korea.

In a nationally televised address, Kim said he was aware of illegal payments to North Korea just ahead of the summit in June 2000, but allowed the money to be paid to the North in "national interest and reconciliation."

"I have caused great concerns to the people with the recent secret North Korea aid controversy. I am extremely sorry and I am personally pained by it," Kim lamented.

Secret financial aid to North Korea is illegal under strict anti-communist National Security Law that bans unauthorized contacts with North Korea.

The 78-year-old president denied allegations, however, that he had bribed the North to agree to stage the June 2000 summit with his defiant counterpart, Kim Jong Il, saying the cash payments were actually connected to business deals between South Korea's Hyundai conglomerate and North Korea.

Kim said that Hyundai Merchant Marine had provided $500 million to secure exclusive rights to seven ongoing business projects in North Korea, including railways, power generation, communications, tourism and an industrial park.

"It was not related to the summit talks," Kim explained.

Kim said he accepted Hyundai's money transfer and provided the cash favor, even though it was in violation of existing law, because he thought the gesture would help "secure peace on the peninsula and promote national interest."

Citing the "peculiarities" of the inter-Korean relationship and the North's "feature as a reclusive country," Kim said initiatives sometimes must be conducted "outside the framework of the law."

"Since it (the secret money transfer) has become an open, public issue, I think the government should disclose details," suggested Kim who won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to improve long-time frigid relations with North Korea.

Kim's apology was widely seen as a move to ease a burden on his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, who was elected after promising to follow in Kim's footsteps by seeking closer ties with North Korea; Kim leaves office on Feb. 25 after completing a single 5-year term.

Opposition lawmakers have called for a formal investigation into the alleged payoffs.

"I take responsibility for this situation, but I earnestly hope that our people understand my innermost feelings about what I did out of my desire to promote peace and our national interest," he said.

Kim said the two Koreas should not go back to the former extreme Cold War rivalry and he defended his "sunshine policy" aimed at improving inter-Korean ties by offering economic incentives.

North Korea, which is a country racked by poverty, has threatened to scrap inter-Korean reconciliation projects if the South takes action over any alleged cash payoffs.

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