(Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
South Korea’s former first lady, Lee Hee-ho, has met with North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un.
In a trip to Pyongyang, Lee met Jong-un to offer her condolences upon the death of his father, leader Kim Jong-il. Jong-un has assumed power and has met with military leaders in order to establish his authority following the "dear leader's" death more than a week ago.
South and North Korea have been at odds since the 1950s, when Russia and China began supporting North Korea, and the United Nations and United States were backing South Korea. North Korea is a communist country, while South Korea is a democracy. According to reports, the Korean War began with the march of North Korean troops into South Korea.
The United States responded with aid to South Korea, but the war continued between the two countries. Tensions still run high, with the threat of nuclear action by North Korea. In the aftermath of Kim Jong-il’s death, a missile was fired on South Korea. There is no word yet whether Kim Jong-un will be more hospitable and open to South Korea.
Lee stated, “As chairman, Kim Jong-il sent a condolence delegation to Seoul when my husband passed away in 2009. I believe it is our duty to express our condolences.” Lee’s husband was former president Kim Dae-jung, who worked with Kim Jong-il in order to improve relations between the two countries.
North Korea has urged South Koreans to pay their respects at the funeral of Kim Jong-il and stated: “We are watching the attitude of the South Korean government.”
Lee’s delegation is the first to visit Jong-un. South Korea has imposed a travel ban for civilians but will allow specific leaders to attend the ceremony, which is to be held on Wednesday.
Reaction to Jong-il’s death has been varied, with world leaders taking different stances on the future of North Korea.
According to one report, Japan, the European Union and U.S. boycotted a moment of silence for Jong-il during a meeting of the United Nation’s General Assembly.