SEOUL, South Korea – President Kim Dae-jung's trademark policy of trying to engage North Korea was in turmoil Tuesday, with his Cabinet offering to resign after a parliamentary vote against a key aide.
The political shake-up followed a parliamentary vote Monday for the dismissal of Unification Minister Lim Dong-won, who had been criticized by opposition lawmakers as being too lenient toward the North's communist government.
The vote in the National Assembly split Kim's fragile ruling coalition because its junior partner, the United Liberal Democrats, had sided with the opposition in demanding Lim's ouster.
Prime Minister Lee Han-dong and four other Cabinet members are United Liberal Democrats. The entire 22-member Cabinet submitted resignations, allowing the president a free hand to reorganize his ruling lineup.
Key presidential aides and ruling party leaders also offered to quit.
Despite the setback, the president said his engagement policy offered the best hope for peace between two nations that have prepared for another conflict ever since the 1950-53 Korean War.
"If war breaks out in a situation like this, the two sides will be certain to perish together. Then our history will backtrack," Kim said in a meeting with religious leaders.
Kim is expected to appoint a new Cabinet by the weekend, said chief spokesman Park Joon-young.
The developments eroded the political mandate of Kim, whose "sunshine" policy of pursuing contacts with the North helped win him the Nobel Peace Prize last year. This weekend, the North proposed a resumption of talks, which stalled in March because of tension with the United States.
Kim was likely to find it much more difficult to win parliamentary approval for initiatives with the North. But he planned to retain the approach that won him acclaim abroad, and widespread skepticism at home.
"Since North Korea has responded to our call for reopening dialogue, I'm sure talks will reopen soon," said Lim, the ousted unification minister.
The policy has produced "remarkable results," he said.
A former intelligence chief, Lim helped arrange a June 2000 meeting in Pyongyang between Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The summit led to a series of exchanges, including reunions of separated family members and an agreement to reconnect a cross-border railway.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who arrived in Pyongyang Monday on a three-day visit, encouraged it to pursue ties with the United States and offered food aid for its starving people, Chinese state media said.
Kim Dae-jung, a pro-democracy activist and longtime opposition leader, was elected president by a thin margin in 1997 elections with support from leader Kim Jong-pil of the United Liberal Democrats.
The two leaders have differed over the "sunshine" policy. Conservatives, including Kim Jong-pil, view the policy as a one-sided appeasement policy that has seldom been reciprocated by the North.
Lim had come under fierce criticism for his approval of a visit to North Korea by 311 civilian delegates two weeks ago.
The delegation of religious, civic and labor activists visited the North to celebrate the anniversary of the Korean peninsula's 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
During the trip, some delegates allegedly praised the North's government. Upon their return, seven delegates were arrested on suspicion of violating the South's anti-communist laws.
The Koreas were partitioned at the end of World War II. Their border remains sealed.