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History in the making: Korean unification in sight 

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June 16, 2000 

SEOUL (AP) - President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea disclosed Thursday that he had discussed sensitive security issues during his summit in North Korea, including the 37,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in the South and the North's nuclear and missile programs.In his speech upon his return to Seoul, Kim didn't describe what he and the communist North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, had said during their discussion about these issues - which weren't mentioned in their final agreement. He only said their talks had been frank and productive.

  

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, left, and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung enter a conference room as they meet for talks on the second day of a three day summit in Pyongyang Wednesday June 14, 2000. (AP Photo/KOREA POOL/Yonhap)

 

"Some of our discussions raised good prospects," he said, without elaborating. He then drove into Seoul in a motorcade accompanied by police on motorcycles as thousands of people, many waving national flags, lined the streets to welcome him. At one point, Kim got out of his limousine to shake spectators' hands.

     

North Korea has repeatedly demanded that the U.S. forces be withdrawn from the South, where they have been protecting it against the North since the 1950-53 Korean War ended. Pyongyang also has been widely criticized for test-firing a long-range ballistic missile over Japan two years ago and allegedly developing weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear bombs.

     

The South's National Security Law, another sensitive topic that was discussed, was used in the South to crack down on communists and opposition groups, drawing criticism from North Korea, a hard-line communist country where Kim Jong Il rules with an iron fist and tolerates no opposition of any kind.

     

The North's nuclear and long-range missile programs have led Washington to label it as a dangerous "rogue" state.

     

On Wednesday night, in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, the two Kims signed an agreement during their unprecedented summit to work toward the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula. It promises to reunify some of the tens of thousands of families that have been separated for 50 years by the countries' closed and heavily armed border, to hold another summit in Seoul, and to promote South Korean investment in impoverished North Korea.

     

Twice before, agreements reached by lower-ranking officials of the two countries to promote the peninsula's reunification have failed.

     

The United States joined China and Japan in praising the Koreas for their historic agreement, but Washington also said it has no immediate plans to withdraw its forces from the South.

     

The North had only allowed 50 South Korean journalists to travel to Pyongyang to cover the summit, and the print and television pool reports they had sent back to hundreds of foreign journalists who were kept in Seoul had made no mention of the two leaders discussing the North's weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. forces, or the controversial South Korean law.

     

"To us, a new day is beginning. We are at the juncture of opening a new chapter in our history, putting an end to 55 years of division and hostility," 

 

Kim Dae-jung said in a speech inside a large building at Seoul Airport packed with government officials and Korean citizens.

 

"When I was in Pyongyang, I realized Pyongyang is our land. People in Pyongyang are our people. And they have deep-rooted love for their southern compatriots," he said.

    

"This is only a beginning. It will take time. We need patience. And we need to make sincere efforts. It is the right way to resolve one issue after another, starting from the easier ones."

    

Throughout the speech, Kim, 75, talked with an emotion that seemed reminiscent of the many years he spent as a fiery opposition leader before being elected president in 1998.

    

Kim's wife, Lee Hee-ho, who had traveled with him, cried with joy as she and her husband were warmly greeted by the large crowd at the airport.

     

Earlier in the day, Kim Jong Il celebrated the historic agreement with another elaborate show of hospitality to his South Korean counterpart when they left for home after the three-day summit.

     

As a military band played loudly and hundreds of citizens waved bouquets of pink paper flowers in unison and screamed "Hurray!" over and over, Kim Jong Il led the South Korean leader and his wife down a red carpet on the tarmac at an airport near Pyongyang, the North's capital.

     

Standing at the bottom of the staircase, the reclusive communist dictator then waved to Kim Dae-jung as he boarded his plane and returned to South Korea.

     

Like the carefully planned ceremony that Kim Jong Il had used on Tuesday to welcome his counterpart to North Korea at the start of their summit, the North's leader once again seemed determined to challenge his long-standing reputation in the West as the cruel leader of a dangerous "rogue" state armed with weapons of mass destruction.

     

Earlier in the day, television footage showed the two Kims holding hands and singing, "Our Wish Is Unification," a song that has long been popular in both countries, at a lavish banquet for both delegations at a guesthouse in Pyonyang.

     

In South Korea, many people were pleased by the accord, but there were few public displays of emotion apart from Kim's motorcade.

     

At Techno Mart, a popular shopping mall in Seoul, the capital, two people wearing masks of Kim and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, staged a mock signing of the agreement, shaking hands and reading it aloud. Employees at the mall handed copies of it to customers.

     

At City Hall, public employees filled hundreds of green, yellow, red, white and blue balloons with helium, and placed them inside huge white nets that were draped above the sidewalks.

     

Across the street, a large banner attached to a tree and traffic pole praised Kim Dae-Jung, saying "Congratulations on your successful South-North summit talks."  


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