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Korean breakthrough

Editorial by Bungo Osawa, Mainichi, Tuesday 11 April 2000

SEOUL - In a move that could put an end to over half a century of bitter enmity, North Korea and South Korea will in June hold the first-ever summit between the leaders of the fierce rivals, according to announcements by both governments on Monday.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung will head to Pyongyang from June 12 to 14 for three days of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, with peace between the two nations and economic cooperation expected to top his agenda.

Officials across the globe hailed the decision, which could eventually bring peace to two halves of a divided nation that have formally been at war with each other since troops from the North invaded and captured Seoul in June 1950.

Korea was divided into the communist North and U.S.-backed South in 1945 and fought a bitter war from 1950 through 1953 for which they have never signed a permanent peace treaty. The border between the countries remains the world's most heavily fortified.

We should make the meeting an event to promise the development and prosperity of the Korean people, said Kim Dae-jung.

South Korean Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu said the two Koreas agreed on the summit to promote national reconciliation, unity exchanges and peaceful reunification.

Kim Il Sung and Kim Young-sam, the immediate predecessors of the current leaders of North and South Korea, had agreed to a summit meeting in Pyongyang from July 25 to 27, 1994. But the talks failed to happen after the North Korean dictator died three weeks before the meetings were to take place.

Park said that groundwork for the talks began in Shanghai on March 17. The South's minister for culture and tourism, Park Jie-won, and North Korea's vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, Song Ho Gyong, came to an agreement about the summit on Saturday.

Kim Dae-jung has been hinting for some time that his open-door policy toward his northern neighbor was showing signs of success. During the South Korean president's historic journey through Europe in March, he announced that it would be possible for his country to give government-level aid to North Korea.

Toward the end of last month, Kim gave an interview to sections of the South Korean media. He pledged that he would pull off an epoch-making step in North-South relations and hinted that South Korean companies could expect plenty of orders from Pyongyang.

Should the summit talks come about, South Korean leaders are apparently poised to place prime importance on discussions about large-scale infrastructure projects in the North, such as those concerning the construction of roads, ports, communications facilities and the supply of desperately needed energy.

Most of the details regarding how Kim will travel to Pyongyang will be worked out this month, leaving open the possibility that the historic meeting could still be derailed.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori lauded the news about the summit meeting.

The summit is quite a good event because it is a result of untiring efforts both nations have made, Mori said. [It is also good] for the peace of Asia.