Pope meets South Korean leader, urges restraint by all during nuclear negotiations

Pope Benedict XVI met Thursday with the president of South Korea and urged restraint by all to avoid endangering negotiations aimed at shutting down North Korea's nuclear program.

Warning of the risk of a nuclear arms race in the region, Benedict said in a letter he gave to the president that "all interested parties" should seek to resolve present tensions through peaceful means and "to refrain from any gesture or initiative that might endanger the negotiations."

The Vatican made the letter public after the 45-minute meeting with President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh's visit to Italy and the Vatican came days after a breakthrough deal on ending North Korea's nuclear program.

Under the first phase reached in Beijing on Tuesday, North Korea would shut down its main nuclear reactor and allow U.N. inspectors back in to the country within 60 days. In return, it would receive aid equal to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel from the other countries in the talks South Korea, the United States, Russia, China and Japan, reports AP.

In the letter, Benedict also expressed compassion over the consequences of the more than 50-year division of the Korean peninsula that has seen families split.

"Please let them know that I am spiritually close to them in their suffering," Benedict said.

Before the meeting, the president's office had said that dialogue with Vatican leaders would help resolve peacefully the North Korean nuclear issue and that it was looking to the Vatican to contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula.

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