North Korea’s leader, Chairman Kim Jong-il, has publicly expressed “regret” over the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. The state news agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced on Wednesday that Mr. Kim hailed the departed leader in a condolence message to the bereaved family. Mr. Kim said the “feats performed [by the late Kim] to achieve national reconciliation and realise the desire for reunification will remain [for] long with the [larger Korean] nation.”

Regional diplomats and observers see Mr. Kim’s condolence message as a gesture of goodwill towards that section of South Koreans which he regards as being well disposed to the idea of reunification of the two Koreas. The inference is based on the fact that Mr. Kim’s message has been sent to the bereaved family and not the South Korean President, Lee Myung-bak or his administration. Mr. Lee is often seen by the DPRK as a hawkish opponent of its nuclear-weapons and missile-development programmes.

It was during the departed leader’s presidency that the two Koreas held their first-ever summit, which led to a process of gradual reconciliation between the two sides. Mr. Kim had sent a condolence message over the death of Roh Moo-hyun, also a former President of South Korea, in May this year.

On a different front in inter-Korean relations, observers noted that the DPRK was closely monitoring how the international community might react to a possible satellite launch by South Korea. The DPRK, banned from testing dual-purpose rockets under the United Nations Security Council resolutions, is now under international sanctions for having attempted a controversial “satellite launch” in April. The U.S. and South Korea are among those believing that the DPRK’s purported “satellite” had never entered orbit.

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