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N. Korea Agrees to Resume Contact with the South - 2002-04-02

South Korea is dispatching a special presidential envoy to Pyongyang Wednesday to try to revive Seoul's flagging Sunshine Policy of engaging the communist North.

Lim Dong-won, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's leading advisor on security and foreign affairs, has a tough agenda when he begins three days of talks in Pyongyang Wednesday.

His mission is to save President Kim's hallmark policy of engaging North Korea before he leaves office at the end of the year. The South Korean leader won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize after he held an unprecedented meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il and the two men agreed to work toward eventual reunification through more meetings and confidence-building measures.

Nearly two years later, those plans have come to a halt. Pyongyang has backed off contacts due in part to growing tensions with South Korea's main ally, the United States, over the North's suspected nuclear weapons program.

So it came as a surprise last week when Seoul announced Pyongyang would meet with envoy Lim Dong-won. It is not clear why the North has agreed to resume contacts after more than four months of silence.

Henry Morris is a Seoul-based consultant who follows political developments on the peninsula. He says that expectations are generally low for a breakthrough in frozen inter-Korean ties. "I would not say that people have high hopes for this visit. There has been a lot of time since Kim Dae-jung's visit to North Korea, which was a very dramatic event, and one of the outcomes of that visit was supposed to be a reciprocal visit by the Northern leader to the South. Not only has that not happened, it is not even scheduled at this time and no one knows when or if it ever will be," Mr. Morris said. If another summit is not likely, there are other issues at stake. Mr. Lim has said he hopes to resume a program of reuniting families separated by 57 years of division of the Korean Peninsula. And maybe he can push for movement on rebuilding a cross-border railway.

The envoy has also indicated he will try to persuade the communist North to reopen talks with the United States. Despite some tough rhetoric about North Korea's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, Washington has issued a standing offer to resume dialogue without any preconditions.