SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s president said on Monday he would use the second ever summit between the leaders of the divided Koreas to press for peace and an eventual arms cut along one of the world’s most heavily militarised borders.
Roh Moo-hyun will lead a motorcade from Seoul on Tuesday, which includes business leaders, bureaucrats and clerics, across the border for a historic 150-minute trip to Pyongyang for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that runs through Thursday.
“It will not be an uneventful course, but once discussions on a peace regime get under way in earnest, we can take up building military confidence and a peace treaty, and furthermore the issue of arms reduction,” Roh said in a televised speech.
South Korean officials have said they do not want to spoil the mood of the summit between the states technically still at war by pressing Pyongyang on its nuclear weapons programme or its widely condemned human rights record.
They are not sure if Kim will greet Roh when he arrives.
Roh said his top summit agenda item would be establishing greater peace along the Cold War’s last frontier.
South Korea’s ability to seek a peace treaty is limited because it was not a signatory to the ceasefire that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War. U.S.-led forces signed the agreement.
U.S. President George W. Bush has said he is ready to discuss a peace treaty once the reclusive communist country scraps its atomic arms, which are considered one of the region’s greatest security threats.
“I do not believe that the peace regime could be actually resolved through the two parties alone,” South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung told a news conference in Seoul.
Six-country talks on ending Pyongyang’s atomic arms programme ended on Sunday allowing delegates a chance to discuss with their government a joint statement that includes plans for permanently disabling the North’s plants that make bomb-grade plutonium.
“I do not believe that the outcome of the six-party talks will have an impact on how the summit will proceed,” Lee said.
North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, has stationed most of its 1.2 million-man military near the border with the South.
South Korea has about 670,000 troops, who are supported by about 28,000 U.S. troops in the country.
South Koreans has lived for decades with the North’s military threat. They also fear a sudden collapse and worry that the hundreds of billions of dollars it would cost to absorb its impoverished neighbour would wreck its own economy.
Conservative South Koreans have taken to the streets to protest against the summit, arguing Seoul should not provide massive aid to the North that they say will help keep its leaders in power. One protester set himself on fire and was later taken to hospital.
The first summit in June 2000 — also held in Pyongyang — broke the ice in the two states’ Cold War rivalry and launched economic and humanitarian projects.
Officials said Roh might propose new projects to rebuild the North’s dilapidated infrastructure and develop joint economic zones in the isolated state where its own manufacturers could further exploit cheap land and labour.
With additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz