- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

SEOUL — In a short stroll heavy with symbolism, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun walked into North Korea this morning, later being greeted personally by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the start of a historic summit in Pyongyang.

“I am now crossing this forbidden line as a president,” a solemn Mr. Roh said in a nationally televised message just before stepping across the yellow line demarcating the border.

VIDEO:Leaders of North, South Korea meet

“After I return home, many more people will do likewise. Then this line of division will finally be erased, and the barrier will break down,” he added.

Hours later in Pyongyang, the two leaders walked down a red carpet where Mr. Kim, wearing his usual khaki military jumpsuit, introduced Mr. Roh to North Korean leaders, according to wire service reports. North Koreans dressed in their finest clothes waved pink and red plastic flowers.

Mr. Kim appeared reserved, walking slowly and occasionally clapping lightly to encourage the crowd. Mr. Roh appeared to revel in the moment, smiling broadly.

But the substance of the talks at only the second North-South summit — seven years after then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Mr. Kim met — remains uncertain. Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung refused to answer questions on agenda items yesterday, saying only that “everything is open” in talks between two countries still technically at war.

Despite recent progress at the China-sponsored regional “six-party talks” to end the North’s nuclear-weapons programs, the public euphoria in the South that surrounded the first summit is absent this time around.

Mr. Roh has declared he will not raise the nuclear issue with Mr. Kim, saying that should be left to the negotiators in Beijing.

Instead, the three-day summit will focus on the broad issues of a “peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” an “economic community” between the Koreas and moves toward eventual reunification, the South Korean leader said.

“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 [also] the issue of arms reduction,” Mr. Roh said in a televised speech before leaving.

Although Mr. Roh has hinted this may mean tension-reducing steps along the border, it remains unclear what a “peace regime” means. Seoul was not a party to the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, and President Bush has said that any final peace accord on the peninsula is conditional upon Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

The Bush administration has taken a noncommittal stand on the summit, saying it supported North-South contacts in general but was more focused on the six-party talks.

“I don’t think that there’s anything particular about [the summit] that will change substantively the discussions that just occurred in Beijing,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

Mr. Roh, who leaves office in February, has a tight schedule. His 300-member delegation, which includes top political, religious and business figures, arrived by motorcade in the north’s capital at midday today, where it was greeted by Mr. Kim and Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the North Korean assembly and the regime’s titular head of state.

He is expected to hold substantive talks tomorrow with Kim Jong-il and watch a mass gymnastics performance at Pyongyang’s colossal May Day stadium. He will visit the Kaesong Inter-Korean industrial complex on his way home.

Kim Jong-il’s decision to greet his South Korean counterpart in person was not unprecedented: In 2000, he made a surprise showing at Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport to welcome Kim Dae-jung.

South Korean conservatives accuse Mr. Roh of attempting to sway December’s presidential election and have demanded he raise such sensitive issues as human rights and the fate of South Korean abductees in his meetings in the North.

They are infuriated that Mr. Roh’s entourage includes Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo, who they fear may offer Pyongyang concessions on a disputed maritime border between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea, the site of deadly naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.

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