Coming talks with North Korea will focus on bringing permanent peace to the divided peninsula, rather than the standoff over the North's nuclear programs, the president of South Korea Roh Moo-hyun said Tuesday.
Roh said the nuclear problem is already on track toward resolution due to progress fostered by international arms talks - and therefore his Oct. 2-4 summit in Pyongyang should be used to secure a lasting peace with the communist North.
"It's a fait accompli that the North Korean nuclear issue is in the course of resolution. That is a mountain pass that we've overcome. What is important now is the next pass," Roh told reporters.
"Wouldn't it be the next pass to bring a permanent peace? That is the most important issue, along with accelerating and promoting economic cooperation in a substantial manner," he said.
The two Koreas fought the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides still technically at war. Permanent peace would mean replacing the cease-fire with a treaty.
Roh said that the summit could produce a "declaration" on the issue, and that the two sides could even begin formal peace negotiations at the summit.
His spokesman Cheon Ho-seon said later that it is natural that the two sides issue a declaration at the end of the summit, and that such a declaration could include a mention of the peace issue.
Talk of formally ending the Korean War gained pace after U.S. President George W. Bush said last week, after a summit in Australia with Roh, that Washington - a party to the 1953 cease-fire - is ready to forge a peace treaty with Pyongyang to formally end the conflict, if the North dismantles its nuclear programs.
South Korean media hailed the remark as a major U.S. overture to the North.
Roh said he would raise the nuclear issue at the summit as a matter of course, but not in a way that causes friction.
"Would it make the talks' atmosphere good to repeatedly stress an issue that is being almost resolved?" he said.
North Korea has shut down its main nuclear reactor and pledged recently to the U.S. that it would comply by year's end with an agreement that also calls for it to disclose all nuclear programs and disable facilities in exchange for economic aid and political concessions.
In a show of its denuclearization commitment, the North invited a team of U.S., Chinese and Russian experts to survey the North's Yongbyon nuclear complex this week. A seven-member team of U.S. experts crossed the land border from the South into the North earlier Tuesday.
Meanwhile, South Korea's Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung announced Tuesday that Roh would be accompanied to the October summit in Pyongyang by top leaders of major South Korean corporate conglomerates, including Hyundai Motor Co., LG Group, SK Group and Samsung Electronics. Lee said the aim was to include as many businesspeople as possible to promote economic cooperation with the North, which Roh has also said would be a chief goal for the summit.