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Corporate Diplomacy Opens Door for Renewal of Inter-Korean Projects


The visit of a South Korean chief executive to North Korea has produced first steps in thawing frozen inter-Korean economic projects. However, South Korea says what Pyongyang agreed to, in principle, needs to be translated into official accords, on a government-to-government level.

Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of South Korea's Hyundai Asan Corporation, crossed back into South Korea Monday, after a week-long visit to the North Korean capital and a long-delayed face-to-face meeting with the North's leader Kim Jong Il.

She says she met with Kim Jong Il for lunch for four hours on Sunday, in what she describes as a "pleasant" atmosphere.

Hours before Hyun's return to the South, her company issued a news release saying Kim Jong Il had authorized the renewal of a number of North-South joint ventures.

The North says it ready to loosen border-crossing restrictions to a special North-South joint factory zone in Kaesong and to resume operations of a tourism resort at the North's Mount Kumgang. South Korea suspended the latter, last year, after North Korean soldiers shot to death a South Korean housewife visiting the resort, then refused to cooperate in an investigation.

Hyun says Kim Jong Il told her that such an accident "would not happen again" at Kumgang.

Hyun went to North Korea, last Monday, and extended her stay five times before attending Sunday's meeting with the North Korean leader. The trip produced initial progress, last Thursday, when the North released Hyundai Asan executive Yu Seong-jin, after more than four months of custody.

Her visit has drawn comparisons to the previous week's diplomatic trip by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who swept into Pyongyang, met with Kim Jong Il and departed with two detained U.S. journalists the following morning. North Korea scholars say both visits, though unofficial in nature, provide a possible cue for improved relations between the North and South, and between North Korea and the United States.

South Korea is cautiously welcoming Hyun's efforts, but says more needs to happen to translate the agreements she made into reality.

South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman Chun Hae-sung says these agreements were made on the level of the private sector and that the two sides will need working-level government talks, as soon as possible, to formalize them.

As for the Mount Kumgang resort, Chun says South Korea will need more from the North Korea than promises.

He says, for the safety of all South Koreans visiting the resort, South Korea will need to "learn the truth" of last year's shooting, before tourism operations can resume. He says formal measures preventing future incidents will also need to be put in place.

South Korea says it wants to act quickly on one Kumgang-related aspect of this week's agreement: The North has agreed to resume reunions there between family members separated by the 1950's war between the Koreas. Pyongyang has offer to resume those in time for a Korean holiday, in early October.

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