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Kim's Funeral Opens Door to High Level Thaw Between North, South Korea


On the day South Korea formally bid farewell to its former president, the country's current president held a groundbreaking meeting with a team of high-level North Korean envoys visiting to pay respects.

Senior North Korean envoys departed the South before the start of Sunday's funeral ceremony for the country's deceased former president, Kim Dae-jung-- but first, they paid a visit to current President Lee Myung-bak.

Mr. Lee's spokesman, Lee Dong-kwan, says the delegates met for thirty minutes with the South Korean president, and passed on a verbal message from North Korean leader Kim Jong ll about "cooperation" between the North and South.

President Lee's office has not publicized specific details of the North Korean leader's message.

Spokesman Lee says President Lee explained the South Korean government's consistent and resolute principles on North issues, and asked the delegation to explain them to Kim Jong ll. He also thanked the delegation for coming, and vowed that there is "no problem that cannot be solved" through sincere dialogue between the two sides. The North side echoed that sentiment, says Lee, by expressing the hope that North and South would indeed solve all of their problems together.

Sunday's meeting is widely seen as a breakthrough, considering that North Korea's official media regular refers to Lee Myung-bak and his administration as "traitors." Mr. Lee, a conservative, ended the policy of two previous South Korean administrations which sought to engage and befriend the North by providing hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer aid and investment.

The North Koreans were in Seoul to honor the pioneer of that policy, President Kim Dae-jung, who died last week at 85.

Thousands attended the funeral for Mr. Kim, a devout Catholic, at South Korea's parliament on Sunday.

In a eulogy, South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo says "You opened the path for inter-Korean reconciliation, exchange, and cooperation throught the first ever South-North Summit since the division of the peninsula. In the year 2000, you received the Nobel Peace Prize, once again putting Korea on the world map."

Mr. Kim's 2000 meeting with Kim Jong ll was credited with profoundly changing the character of North-South relations, paving the way for increased North-South contacts and a set of reunions for families separated by the 1950s Korean War. However, it was later tainted by allegations the South paid the North nearly half a billion dollars to agree to the event.

Prime Minister Han went on to praise Kim Dae-jung's struggle to transition his country from dictatorship to democracy.

He says "often comparing yourself to the honeysuckle that survives the freezing winter, you emerged strong prevailing over the lifetime of hardship from imprisonment, house arrest, death sentence and exile."

President Barack Obama sent a U.S. delegation to attend Sunday's funeral, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and senior State Depeartment Envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth.



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