North Korea also hedged its bets, secretly keeping a program to enrich uranium so it could one day build its own atomic bombs.
In 2000, President Kim Dae-jung, the initiator of the Sunshine Policy, flew to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-il, ushering in a period of détente that seemed to promise an end to hostilities on the peninsula. Investment and trade flourished, and families separated by the war were allowed to hold reunions.
Kim Jong-il sent his trusted aide, Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, to the White House to ask President Bill Clinton to visit Pyongyang. However, Mr. Clinton decided he could not attempt so bold a diplomatic move at the end of his time in office, and instead sent his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.
The new opening with Washington closed after President Bush took office in 2001. North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.
“After he stepped down, President Clinton visited Seoul and told President Kim Dae-jung how regrettable it was; he said if he had a little bit more time in office, he could have changed the course of the Korean Peninsula,” said Lim Dong-won, a former aide to Mr. Kim, who attended the meeting.
Mr. Roh, who replaced Kim Dae-jung, tried to keep the détente alive with his 2007 agreement on easing military tensions and increasing economic cooperation. But the deal, signed four months before Mr. Roh’s term ended, was quickly overturned by Mr. Roh’s conservative successor, Lee Myong-bak.