Seoul's peace offensive Korea: South's president seeks dialogue with North to replace failed policy of isolation.

June 12, 1998

FEW POLITICIANS carry the moral authority of South Korea's President Kim Dae Jung. He paid his dues in the fight for democracy in his country. Imprisoned, kidnapped, condemned to death, exiled, he won a free election to his country's highest office.

So when Kim Dae Jung speaks, Congress should listen. He presented Congress this week with a radically different approach to North Korea than the armed hostility and isolation his country and the United States have jointly mounted since the Korean War armistice of 1953.

He offered North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Il three principles: No armed provocation.

No undermining of North Korea or attempt to absorb it.

"A course of bold exchange and cooperation."

President Kim is on sound ground, if the reversal of West German policy toward East Germany a generation ago is relevant precedent. He would like Korean families to be able to reunite. He wants to remove fear and loathing from inter-Korean relations.

President Clinton has said he cannot get any relaxation of embargoes through Congress this year. Mr. Kim knows this. He hopes Congress will start thinking about it. So President Clinton's encouragement to Seoul to go ahead while Washington watches met Mr. Kim's expectations.

What he needs most is a positive response from the reclusive dictator of North Korea. Kim Jong Il has not risen to his invitation to meet. He has, rather, ratcheted up hostility to Japan.

If Kim Dae Jung can sell what the diplomats call a rapprochement to Kim Jong Il, the United States ought to accommodate it swiftly. That would be the best way to lessen the chances of future hostilities on the Korean peninsula.

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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