"I'm Lee Hu-rak, director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. Instructed by President Park Chung-hee, early in May..." Everyone was astonished when Lee continued: "I visited Pyongyang." It was in a nationally televised press conference on July 4, 1972, marking the first contact between the mortal enemies for 27 years. Wonders did not cease: a joint communique for unification was announced simultaneously in Seoul and Pyongyang immediately afterward.
The Cold War order was undergoing major changes in the early 1970s. In 1969, the U.S., under the Nixon Doctrine (also known as the Guam Doctrine), announced it was withdrawing one-third of U.S. forces stationed in South Korea. In February 1972, the U.S. normalized relations with China.
In Korea, it was the South that extended the hand. President Park, gaining confidence from economic growth, proposed in his address commemorating the nation's liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1970 "easing tension for peaceful unification and goodwill competition." In August 1971, the South Korean Cross proposed to its North Korean counterpart talks on the reunion of families separated by the Korean War.
On May 2, 1972, Lee was dispatched as a secret envoy to Pyongyang. At Cheong Wa Dae prior to his departure, Lee, pointing at the pocket of his jackets, said, "I've put it in here." “It” was potassium cyanide for suicide, just in case. At 1 a.m. on May 4, Lee was woken by a knock on the door at the Moranbong Guest House. After driving along an unpaved hilly road in the rain, he arrived at Kim Il-sung's official residence. Lee was confused for a second when Kim extended his hand. The capsule of potassium cyanide in his hand stuck to his palm. "Perhaps suspicious of my attitude, Kim Il-sung suddenly stopped," Lee recalled. On May 29, North Korean Vice Premier Park Song-chol visited Seoul in secret and met Park.
The joint communique issued on July 4, 1972 proclaimed "independence, peace and grand national unity" as three principles of unification and revealed an accord to ease tensions and conduct exchanges. The Red Cross talks between South and North Korea opened in August that year. Some people believed the two Koreas would be unified soon. But the thaw did not last long in the face of the North's political offensives, including joint meetings of political parties and social organizations. It was the beginning of a grueling process of inter-Korean dialogue plagued by numerous hopes and betrayals, palpitations and deceits.