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Lee Hee-ho’s visit to N. Korea as a catalyst for inter-Korean relations

Lee Hee-ho’s visit to N. Korea as a catalyst for inter-Korean relations

Posted July. 10, 2015 07:12,   


North Korea has threatened on Thursday that it might nullify a plan for the former first lady Lee Hee-ho to visit Pyongyang if South Korea continues to insult the North’s supreme leader and make provocations, in a statement issued by Asia-Pacific Peace Committee. North Korea’s warning came just two days after it agreed to allow Lee, widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, to visit North Korea from Aug. 5 to Aug. 8. Such sudden change of the stance raises doubts over the communist regime’s sincerity over the agreement. As North Korea has canceled the trip by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Gaesung only one day before the scheduled date in May, it is possible for the isolated country to cancel Lee’s planned visit. “It (Lee’s visit) could be a catalyst to resolve the strained inter-Korean relations. But I am worried as Pyongyang has sent out negative messages,” said South Korean foreign minister Yoon Byeong-se at the discussion organized by Kwanhun Club, South Korea’s local organization.

North Korea has taken the first move to invite Lee. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed gratitude for condolence flowers sent by Lee for the third anniversary of the death of his father, former leader Kim Jong-il, in December of 2014 and invited Lee to Pyongyang. South’s former first lady wanted to visit the North in May, but North Korea has delayed to confirm‍ the schedule. Again, Lee wanted to go on a land route but North Korea insisted an air route over the West Sea. It is not an appropriate manner to keep nitpicking when someone invites a guest.

‘South Korea’s insulting the North’s supreme leader’ claimed by Pyongyang seems to refer to South Korea’s local media reports on Kim Jong Un’s touring in the recently unveiled Sunan International Airport. Some South Korean media analyzed that Pyongyang might have insisted Lee go to Pyongyang via flight so that it can boast the new state-of-the-art airport. It is hard to understand how this can be interpreted as an insult against the North Korea’s supreme leader.

If Lee can serve as a messenger to deliver messages from both leaders of the North and the South while the inter-Korean relations have strained, Lee’s visit can become a catalyst to thaw the frozen relations between the two Koreas. Lee’s successful trip to Pyongyang may facilitate talks between the authorities in the North and the South. Although the Ministry of Unification in Seoul expressed regret over the statement of Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, the ministry announced that there is no change in Seoul’s stance to provide necessary support for Lee’s visit to the North. It is all because of expectations on possible future inter-Korean talks. If the two Koreas miss this year, the 70th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rules, without any proper inter-Korean talks, reconciliation between North and South Koreas will become a far-fetched goal. This result would be misfortune for both, the South and the North.

If Pyongyang has commitment for dialogues, it must stop nitpicking and engage in Lee’s visit with sincere and open heart. Seoul needs to carefully prepare for responses including President Park’s message, if Lee’s visit is realized.