Tue, Feb 25, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Kim leaves the Blue House amid regrets, controversy

TARNISHED The South Korean president steps down with some calling him a peacemaker and others saying he bought the Nobel Peace Prize


South Korea's president ended five years in office yesterday, saying direct dialogue between the US and North Korea would be key to ending the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

In a farewell address, Kim Dae-jung also hailed the US military presence in South Korea, saying it was a regional "stabilizer" that should stay even if North and South Korea were again united one day.

Kim's view on how to solve the crisis over the North's development of nuclear weapons differs from that of Washington, which wants a multilateral resolution.

"We must resolutely oppose North Korea's nuclear development," Kim said in a nationally televised speech. "The nuclear development should be abandoned, but it should be resolved peacefully through dialogue."

Kim added that "the key to a resolution is a dialogue between North Korea and the US."

A black Cadillac later whisked Kim away from the presidential Blue House to his newly built private residence in western Seoul. Aides and staffers lined the Blue House driveway clapping as the motorcade passed, and rows of fatigue-clad soldiers shouted chants of "loyalty!"

Kim was to relinquishes official duties at midnight yesterday. Capping his final day of work was a meeting with visiting Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen.

Kim's farewell comments came just hours before US Secretary of State Colin Powell was to arrive in Seoul to attend Tuesday's inauguration of new leader Roh Moo-hyun.

Pyongyang has demanded direct talks with Washington, but US officials say they will not open negotiations until North Korea verifiably gives up its nuclear weapons program.

In his speech, Kim said his "sunshine policy" of engagement with Pyongyang had lowered tensions on the divided peninsula and that North Korea would work with the outside world when treated decently.

"I am confident that when we continue efforts to promote a peaceful coexistence and peaceful exchanges with North Korea, the North will open up more widely," he said.

Kim said America's military presence on the peninsula should not end with eventual North-South reconciliation. The US has 37,000 troops based in South Korea.

"The existence of the US military in South Korea is necessary for now, but also for the future after the unification," Kim said. "The South Korea-US military alliance is beneficial to both sides."

Kim's opening to North Korea, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize, has come under heavy criticism in recent months amid rising tensions over Pyongyang's weapons plans.

His government has also been damaged by disclosure it helped a South Korean conglomerate make illegal "sweetener" payments of up to US$500 million to the North ahead of the historic North-South summit in June 2000.

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Taking care of business key to Roh government

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