Destiny comes to Pyongyang

Korea: Summit holds hopes of bringing tyrannical North out of desperate poverty and isolation.

June 14, 2000

ONE OF THE world's most modern countries met one of its most backward yesterday, when Kim Jong Il welcomed Kim Dae Jung to Pyongyang. Both are Korea.

The meeting holds hope of ending one of the great tragedies remaining from the falling-out of the Allies who won World War II, the open wound separating two halves of one country.

North Korea is an orphan satellite of a Soviet Union that no longer exists and a China seeking commerce with South Korea.

It is the last forbidden place, isolated and unknown, easy to demonize. It developed missiles for an immense standing army but cannot feed its people.

North Korea deifies the Great Leader Kim Jong Il, son of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, in a cult proclaiming equality of all people.

It threatens world peace in its desperation and paranoia. To prevent that, it is being fed by its sworn enemies.

Kim Dae Jung, who travels as though a supplicant, leads two-thirds of Korea's 70 million people. Most of his career was in jail, exile and opposition.

Kim Jong Il is a recluse, once playboy prince of a country that had no other playboy. The West's view of this Mr. Kim is shock every time he says something sensible.

Both are for unification of their country, though neither probably can imagine it.

Kim Dae Jung suggests repairing the severed transport links. That, at least, is tangible.

The war of 1950-1953, ending in a hostile truce that persists, took 5 million lives. The split of the country broke up the families of 7 million people. One million heavily armed North Koreans stay on the line, menacing the most developed part of South Korea surrounding Seoul. Some 37,000 U.S. troops face them, a trip wire guaranteeing that any war there is our war.

How nice if all that could end. Never did such hopes rest on the theater of summitry. Never did a national leader travel so far as Kim Dae Jung did yesterday, covering the 108 miles from Seoul to Pyongyang.

For their next act, Mr. Kim and Mr. Kim should play Seoul before an audience of both their peoples. Unification is Korea's destiny, as inevitable as it is unthinkable.

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