- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

SEOUL — A South Korean delegation left for Pyongyang yesterday to finalize plans for a visit by former President Kim Dae-jung and, potentially, the first North-South summit in six years.

The initiative reflects a growing split between Seoul and Washington over how to deal with North Korea, which has refused to participate in six-nation nuclear talks since the United States froze its overseas bank accounts in response to counterfeiting activities late last year.

Aides to Mr. Kim accompanied government officials on the trip, which will set the stage for talks between the former president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in June. Kim Dae-jung has said he will use the meeting to try to organize a summit later this year.

President Roh Moo-hyun last week said he would meet with Kim Jong-il “any time, anywhere, to talk about anything.” More worrying to the United States is Mr. Roh’s statement that he would offer the North “many concessions.”

Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok renewed the offer in a radio interview Sunday, saying: “President Roh is more determined than ever to hold an inter-Korean summit.”

Roh adviser Moon Chung-in said the moves were intended to persuade Kim Jong-il to return to the nuclear talks, which have been stalled since September. “Kim Dae-jung has always emphasized that the North has nothing to gain by having nuclear weapons,” he said.

Kim Dae-jung, a former human rights activist and president from 1998 to 2003, engineered the only previous summit between the two Koreas, held in Pyongyang in June 2000.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the same year, but the award was tarnished when it became clear that his government had secretly channeled $500 million to the North to secure the meeting. Mr. Kim’s long-standing invitation for the reclusive northern leader to make a reciprocal visit to Seoul remains unanswered.

Kim Dae-jung was invited to the North through Chung Dong-young, the South Korean unification minister who met with Kim Jong-il in June last year. The ex-president’s official status is not clear, but he has been visited by senior figures in the Uri Party, to which he and the current president belong.

“The government has not considered sending him as a special envoy,” said an official at the Unification Ministry. “However, given that he is a former president and an important figure, the government will provide our full support and cooperation for him in his visit.”

In what would be a historic move, Kim Dae-jung has expressed a desire to travel to the North by train. A test run on tracks that were disconnected after the Korean War is scheduled for May 25.

Kim Dae-jung was the architect of South Korea’s “sunshine policy,” which called for enticing the North with carrots rather than confronting it with sticks.

The Clinton administration supported the reconciliation effort, sending Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to Pyongyang in 2000. The Bush administration has been more hawkish, insisting on a hard line toward the North’s barely concealed nuclear weapons program.

Washington refused Thursday to participate in a new U.N. World Food Program operation for the North, citing concerns over monitoring. Seoul, which supplies the largest amount of food aid to its neighbor, channels it directly to the North Korean government, rather than through the United Nations.

A planned repositioning of U.S. bases in South Korea also has exacerbated tensions, prompting protests by about 10,000 people over the weekend in central Seoul and at the site of a future U.S. headquarters near the town of Pyongtaek.

About 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, but Seoul is concerned about their use beyond the peninsula. Wartime control of the allied forces is also an issue.

Bilateral free-trade negotiations, which begin in June, could become snarled over whether to include a joint North-South industrial complex at Kaesong in North Korea. U.S. officials have criticized the labor conditions and wages at the complex.

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