Seoul denies North Korea Kim’s visit


SEOUL, AFP

A South Korean newspaper reported Wednesday that North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-il may visit Seoul next week, but the report brought strong denials from the South Korean government.

The Joongang Ilbo, a major daily, said the North Korean leader was bringing forward a promised visit because his country desperately needs economic aid.

Senior presidential spokesman Park Joon-young told reporters at the presidential Blue House there was a “less than a one percent chance” that Kim Jong-il would visit Seoul next week.

“Nothing has been fixed yet except that the visit will take place this spring as mentioned earlier by President Kim Dae-jung,” Park was quoted as saying.

“JoongAng’s news report is totally groundless,” another Blue House official told AFP. “It’s impossible for the North Korean leader to make a return visit before President Kim Dae-jung’s visit to the United States.”

The South Korean leader is pressing for talks with U.S. president George W. Bush. Some officials have said Kim Dae-jung could visit Washington next month.

A senior government official hinted that Kim Jong-il’s visit to South Korea in April at the earliest, according to the state-run Yonhap News Agency.

“I expect Kim to make a return visit to Seoul after visiting Russia,” the unnamed official was quoted by Yonhap as saying. ITAR TASS quoted an informed source in the Russian foreign ministry as saying last week that Kim will visit Moscow in April for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Joongang Ilbo, quoting a Japanese source familiar with North Korean affairs, said Kim Jong-il would arrive in Seoul around February 23 for a three day visit to include a summit with President Kim Dae-jung.

The Seoul daily was one of the first media to report Kim Jong-il’s surprise visit to mainland China last month.

The two Kims held the first summit between the rival Koreas — which have never formally ended the 1950-53 Korean War — in Pyongyang last June. Kim Jong-il promised a return visit then but no firm date has been given.