August 10, 2015 10:20
Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former president Kim Dae-jung, returned from North Korea on Saturday without meeting leader Kim Jong-un, dashing hopes that her gentle philanthropism could pave the way for better ties.
Politicians loyal to the former president voiced regret at the snub. Kim Dae-jung became the first South Korean leader to visit the North in 2000 for a landmark summit with then-leader Kim Jong-il and is held in some reverence there.
But other considerations may have trumped Lee's personal clout amid strained cross-border relations.
Park Jie-won of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, a close aide to the former president, told the Chosun Ilbo Sunday, "We are grateful to the North for inviting Lee, but it’s a pity Kim Jong-un didn't meet her.'
Lee had asked for a meeting with Kim when the trip was first discussed, but Pyongyang refused to commit.
A government official here said, "In North Korea, the leader's itinerary is entirely based on his own whim. During the 2000 summit, Kim Dae-jung had no idea whether Kim Jong-il would greet him at the airport until he got there."
Inviting Lee and then ignoring her would be perfectly in character for the capricious regime.
Normally some other senior figures would stand in for the leader, but this time the likeliest candidate, United Front Department director Kim Yang-gon, was abroad and the task fell to humbler apparatchiks.
Lee told reporters on return that her mission had been personal and involved no official or semi-official business. "As a civilian, I was given no official task, but I carried out my personal plans in the spirit of the inter-Korean declaration" signed at the historic summit.
"Holding the hands of innocent children at orphanages in Pyongyang was a powerful reminder that we should not pass the pains of division on to the next generation."
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