N.Korean Funeral Delegation to Meet Unification Minister

      August 21, 2009 11:01

      From left, Kim Ki-nam and Kim Yang-gon

      Senior government officials are expected to meet with a North Korean delegation attending the funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung during its stay in Seoul from Friday to Saturday. The delegation is headed by Kim Ki-nam, a secretary of the Workers' Party Central Committee and close confidant of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. It includes Kim Yang-gon, the director of North Korea's United Front Department, which is in charge of South Korea policy. They are expected to meet Unification Minister Hyun In-taek.

      Pyongyang on Thursday informed Seoul who would join the six-member delegation. It also includes Won Tong-yon, a ranking member of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, which handles inter-Korean affairs, Maeng Kyong-il and Ri Hyon, officials at the committee, and Kim Un-ju, an official of the National Defense Commission. The North Koreans are scheduled to arrive at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul aboard a special plane on Friday afternoon and leave on Saturday.

      On arrival, they will go straight to the National Assembly, where Kim lies in state, lay a wreath on behalf of Kim Jong-il and deliver their condolences to the family. Then they are scheduled to meet key aides of former President Kim like former National Intelligence Agency director Im Dong-won, former unification minister Chung Se-hyun and lawmaker Park Jie-won.

      The North had not proposed an official meeting by late Thursday afternoon, but the unification minister is reportedly preparing to meet the delegation on Friday or Saturday. "The South and the North are prepared to meet, but both sides expect their counterparts to make the proposal first," said a source. "As it's unofficial, chances are that the meeting will be arranged immediately on arrival of the delegation without fine-turning of the timing."

      If a meeting between the unification minister and the North Korean delegation is realized, Kim Yang-gon is expected to be Hyun's counterpart. His inclusion in the delegation despite his lack of acquaintance with Kim Dae-jung is interpreted as evidence that the North also has pending inter-Korean issues in mind. Directing inter-Korean affairs and heading the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, Kim was present when Kim Jong-il recently met former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun.

      If the meeting happens, Seoul is expected to put its position on inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation project which Kim Jong-il, in a meeting with Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, agreed to resume, and to propose reviving a dialogue channel between the two governments.

      "Since senior officials of the two sides are meeting for the first time since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration, the emphasis will probably be on confirming mutual positions on major matters rather than working-level discussions," speculated Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University.

      Whether the delegation will pay a courtesy call on President Lee Myung-bak or meet with senior presidential aides remains to be seen.

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