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Former S. Korean President Hopeful for Improved Relations With US

Former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung is hopeful that relations between the United States and North Korea will improve, under the Barack Obama administration. Kim is best known for initiating the North Korean rapprochement strategy known as the "Sunshine Policy."

In 2000, Kim Dae Jung made history by meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong il in Pyongyang. Their summit won him a Nobel Peace prize and tampered-down decades of mutual mistrust and hostility that had endured since the Korean War, in the early 1950s.

However, in recent years, tensions have risen on the Korean Peninsula, in part because of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program and a hard-line policy fostered by U.S. President George Bush.

On the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration as U.S, president, the 83-year-old Kim says now is the time to re-engage North Korea.

Reading from a prepared statement, the former president suggested that Mr. Obama give high priority to resolving the North Korean nuclear standoff, through the framework of multilateral negotiations, known as the six-party talks. Kim recommends that the American president-elect adopt what he calls a "wholesale package" deal with Pyongyang, which he explained means giving whatever you can to North Korea and taking whatever is offered, in return.

Critics of Kim Dae Jung say that type of strategy is exactly what is wrong with his Sunshine Policy. Conservatives, such as current South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, have argued that, since North Korean engagement began a decade ago, Seoul has given billions of dollars to Pyongyang and has received little in return.

Today, inter-Korean dialogue is virtually frozen. Mr. Lee has backed-off from many of the investment deals struck by Kim Dae Jung and his immediate successor, Roh Moo Hyun.

Pyongyang refuses Seoul's requests for the resumption of talks, insisting that Mr. Lee first drop what it calls his hostile policy.

Seoul also suspended tours to the Mount Geumgang resort in North Korea, after guards shot to death a South Korean tourist, last year.

Kim Dae Jung lists opening the Geumgang resort as a major accomplishment of his presidency. He says Seoul should resume tours.

Kim says it was unfortunate that the tourist was killed, but that the Lee administration may have stopped tours too soon. The former president says he would like the resort to re-open again, soon.

Despite the lull in Inter-Korean relations, Seoul today dispatched nuclear envoys to North Korea. The team is assessing whether South Korea will buy thousands of nuclear fuel rods from Pyongyang. Last month, North Korea agreed to export these materials, as a part of its efforts to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.