For South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the summit is a political triumph and the zenith of his career as a reconciler.
Kim was branded a Communist for his vision of national reunification and democracy during his 1971 presidential campaign against dictator Park Chung Hee.
The ex-dissident has survived what he calls four attempts on his life by previous military governments and endured 14 years of exile, house arrest, and imprisonment. Kim says he kept himself going with his Roman Catholic faith and a strong sense of justice.
During his years in prison, Kim imagined debating North Korea's founding father and dictator Kim Il Sung - conversations he likened to a chess match - and formulated a long-term plan for peacefully reunifying Korea. The process of gradual integration would begin with cooperative projects to build confidence, leading to a joint parliament, a confederation, and then a federal government.
South Korea became democratic in 1987 but it took popular discontent over an economic crisis and Kim's alliance with former political enemies before he was elected president in 1997. Since then he has been implementing his ideas about making peace with North Korea.
Kim began his term by pardoning ex-president Chun Doo Hwan after his conviction for treason and corruption. Mr. Chun had sentenced Kim to death in 1980 for "antistate activities," although Kim was saved by US intervention.
Kim says he reveres Abraham Lincoln for his sense of forgiveness and reconciliation following the Civil War. The South Korean president sometimes quotes a phrase from Lincoln's second inaugural address: "With malice toward none; with charity for all...."
His "sunshine policy" of engaging North Korea has allowed unprecedented business and cultural links between the two Koreas and encouraged other countries to normalize relations with the North.
The South Korean conglomerate Hyundai, which runs tourist cruises to a scenic mountain in North Korea, has plans for a multibillion-dollar industrial park if relations improve. This year, Italy and Australia became the first Western nations to establish diplomatic ties with the North.
One old friend of the president says he is hankering for the Nobel Peace Prize.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society