South Korean delegation returns after meeting with Kim Jong Un

 South Korea's former first lady and her delegates offer condolences to late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Story highlights

  • The South Korean delegation returns from Pyongyang after meeting Kim Jong Un
  • 'He's just as you see him in the media,' says one of the South Korean visitors
  • The group is led by a former first lady and a Hyundai Group chairwoman
  • Pyongyang announced Kim Jong Il's death on December 19, putting the region on edge

A delegation of South Korean citizens returned Tuesday from their two-day visit to the North where they paid their respects to the deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and met with his youngest son and chosen successor, Kim Jong Un.

The meeting in in Pyongyang on Monday evening was the younger Kim's first interaction with visitors from the South since the death of his father.

"He's just as you see him in the media," said a member of the delegation, Hyun Jeong-Eun, responding to questions about Kim Jong Un at a news conference after returning to South Korea.

"Because I went simply to express my condolences, there was not any other opportunity to talk about various other issues," said Hyun, the chairwoman of Hyundai Group, whose husband and predecessor, Chung Mong-hun, had pushed for industrial investments in the North.

Hyun was joined in the 18-member civilian delegation by Lee Hee-ho, the widow of the former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at nurturing reconciliation between the two Koreas.

Their visit came at a delicate point in relations between the two Koreas. The death of Kim Jong Il, announced by Pyongyang on December 19, has put the region on edge, as the world waits to see how the leadership succession will play out in the secretive regime.

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An aide for Lee said Tuesday that the visitors had a brief encounter of about 10 minutes with Kim Jong Un, who said, "Thank you for coming from so far."

The delegation on Tuesday met another senior figure in the North Korean regime: Kim Yong-nam, the president of the North's parliament who holds a largely ceremonial role.

In that meeting, Lee expressed hope that the group's visit would help move the two sides back toward the pursuit of peace on the Korean peninsula, according to her aide.

That prospect hinges on the intentions of Kim Jong Un, who remains largely an unknown quantity outside his country's borders, as well as his ability to secure a strong power base in the North.

He has so far received a string of praise and endorsements in the North Korean news media since his father's death, suggesting he is succeeding in rallying support within the regime's hierarchy.

Over the weekend, the younger Kim was referred to as the "supreme commander" in an editorial published in the country's main state newspaper, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

To try to navigate the unpredictable situation to the north, Seoul has expressed its sympathy to the North Korean people and given the green light to Lee and Hyun's group to visit the North. But it has said it will not send an official delegation to pay respects to Kim Jong Il.

Pyongyang sent delegations to South Korea when the former president Kim and the former Hyundai chairman Chung died in 2009 and 2003, respectively.

The funeral of Kim Jong Il is expected to take place Wednesday followed by a memorial service Thursday.