North, South Korea exchange recalls previous historic meeting
REPORTING FROM SEOUL -– Though brief, Tuesday's meeting between North Korean and South Korean leadership families smacked of another historic get-together more than a decade ago that led to one head of state winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
That 2000 meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his southern counterpart, then-President Kim Dae-jung, was an attempt to bridge two opposing ideologies, an event that never lived up to its billing and never brought the much-hoped-for results.
The most recent meeting was a gesture of condolence expressed between the same two families following Kim's recent death, but many hope this interface can do what the other could not -– achieve an elusive peace on the Korean peninsula.
On Tuesday, the late dictator's handpicked successor, youngest son Kim Jong Un, welcomed Lee Hee-ho, the widow of Kim Dae-jung at the regime's gilded Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang.
The frail 89-year-old widow was part of a private South Korean delegation that arrived on a brief visit to express condolences to the younger Kim over his father's sudden death on Dec. 17 of a heart attack.
The exchange was aired on North Korea's state-run television, and later in South Korea.
The video shows Lee, accompanied by Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband had ties to the North, briefly paying respects before Kim Jong Il's body, which is lying in state at the palace before a funeral set for Wednesday.
South Korea's former first lady then walks slowly to Kim, stretching out her hand in greeting. The North Korean leader wraps the older woman's hand between both palms, leaning in to speak with her.
"Thank you for coming such a long way," Kim reportedly told her.
The exchange was brief, less than a minute, and marked the first time that the younger Kim has met with any South Koreans since his father died.
Although the South Korean government has banned all public expressions of sorrow over Kim Jong Il's death, Seoul officials allowed the women to make a private visit because North Korea had sent separate condolence delegations to Seoul after the deaths of Chung Mong-hun, Hyun's late husband and former Hyundai Group chairman, in 2003 and Kim Dae-jung in 2009.
In 2000, Kim Dae-jung held a landmark summit with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, while Chung pushed for joint-venture economic projects with North Korea. Kim Dae-jung later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his gesture toward a cessation of hostilities with the North Koreans, though that peace attempt eventually failed.
-- John M. Glionna and Jung-yoon Choi
Photo: Kim Jong Un, right, late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's youngest known son and successor, shakes hands with Lee Hee-ho, the wife of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who visits Kumsusan Memorial Palace to pay respects to the late leader. Credit: Associated Press