SEOUL – FP-Jiji
The widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung returned home Saturday from a rare trip to North Korea but her hoped-for meeting with leader Kim Jong Un failed to materialize.
Lee Hee-ho’s four-day visit was ostensibly humanitarian but there had been much speculation about a possible meeting with Kim, who personally invited her.
However, her aides said she had had no chance of meeting the young leader during the trip.
Instead, a North Korean official conveyed Jong Un’s message of welcome to Lee, the aides said.
Lee’s husband is best remembered for his “sunshine policy” of engagement with the isolated but nuclear-armed North that led to a historic summit between him and Jong Un’s late father, Kim Jong Il, in 2000.
Lee said she visited the North as a private citizen and had not been assigned any official duties.
“However, I made the trip with a view to dedicating to the spirit of the June 15 declaration,” she said in a statement on returning to Seoul, referring to an inter-Korean agreement for peace and reconciliation signed at the end of the landmark summit.
After arriving in Pyongyang, Lee visited hospitals caring for children and young mothers.
“Holding the hands of innocent, beaming children there, I deeply felt we should not pass the pain of the division of the motherland on to the next generations,” she said.
“I hope all the Korean people put their minds together to overcome divisions and achieve reunification through reconciliation, cooperation and love, as was declared in the June 15 declaration,” added the 93-year-old former first lady.
The “sunshine policy” was largely abandoned when a conservative administration took power in South Korea in 2008 and cross-border ties soured.
A series of nuclear and missile launches by the North in recent years as well as occasional military clashes have kept tensions high.
Lee has visited the North three times before, the last trip being to pay respects during the funeral of Kim Jong Il in December 2011.
At the time, she briefly met with Jong Un while he was receiving mourners.
North Korea’s official Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement that Lee’s trip served as an occasion to reflect on the meaning of the June 15 joint declaration.
“We could feel Mrs. Lee Hee-ho’s strong heart and commitment to inheriting that spirit as she visited the North despite the South Korean government’s uncooperative attitude and conservatives’ intimidation,” it said.
Analysts said Kim’s failure to meet with Lee suggests the North is not seeking to establish better relations with the conservative government of President Park Geun-hye.
“This shows that the North does not have any expectations or intentions to improve ties with the South,” professor Kim Geun-sik of Kyungnam University noted.
Seoul had also limited the scope of the visit by describing it as “private,” he noted.
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