South Korea's president yesterday called for a meeting with the leaders of the US, North Korea and China to formally end the war that has split the Korean peninsula for more than 50 years.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said that such a summit would help international efforts to scrap the North's nuclear weapons program and conclude a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950 to 1953 Korean War.
"In order to push for the prompt nuclear dismantlement of North Korea and the conclusion of a peace treaty, the leaders of the concerned countries need to make a joint declaration and set up a definite milestone," Roh told a security forum in the southern port city of Busan.
Political analysts have said that Roh is pressing for a summit to secure a positive legacy for what has been a largely unpopular presidency, but that he stands little chance of brokering the first meeting between the leaders of the US and North Korea -- two long-time foes.
US President George W. Bush and China's ambassador to South Korea have said that a peace treaty cannot be reached until North Korea has abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
"The North's nuclear program is essentially related to the armistice regime, so both issues need to be dealt with at the same time," Roh said.
"The reason that we are pushing for a four-party summit is simple," he said. "It's aimed at making North Korea carry out its nuclear dismantlement promise at an early date."
Roh said that although the North has a clear commitment to disarming, it will be a long and complicated process to complete the denuclearization and a Korean Peninsula peace treaty.
He said "unforeseen obstacles" may lurk within the process.
Roh said a four-nation summit would help fend off some of those obstacles. But he added, "We can never say the Bush administration has enough time."
Bush's second and final term ends in January 2009. Roh leaves office in February next year and is barred by the Constitution from seeking re-election.
Roh said holding such a summit at the end of peace treaty negotiations would be of no use, and would only amount to a "toast."
North Korea agreed in a deal with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US to disable by the end of the year its nuclear complex that makes plutonium for nuclear weapons in exchange for massive aid and an end to its status as an international pariah.
North Korea last week began disabling its plutonium-producing nuclear plants at Yongbyon under an accord with five negotiating partners -- South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia.
The ceasefire that ended the 1950 to 1953 Korean War was signed by the US on behalf of UN forces, China and North Korea. The North's powerful military has said that South Korea did not deserve a seat at the table for peace treaty talks because it did not sign the armistice.
But Roh and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed at a summit last month to bring peace to the Cold War's last frontier by seeking talks with the US and China.
The peace deal will likely be discussed this week when prime ministers from the two Koreas hold their first meeting in 15 years.