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Koreas to Seek a Formal Peace Treaty

North Korean students perform during a gymnastic extravaganza at the May Day stadium in Pyongyang for visiting South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun.
North Korean students perform during a gymnastic extravaganza at the May Day stadium in Pyongyang for visiting South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun. (Pool Photos Via Associated Press)

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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 4, 2007

SEOUL, Oct. 4 -- Leaders of the two Koreas ended their summit Thursday with a joint pledge to seek talks with China and the United States aimed at formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

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They also announced that they would set up a "peace zone" around a much-disputed border in the Yellow Sea that is rich with fish and where skirmishes between the countries have broken out over the past several decades.

The summit also produced a promise that a rail line would open up between North and South. There is now no open road or rail connection between the two countries.

"This is a big triumph for South Korea," said Koh Yu Hwan, professor of political science at Dongguk University in Seoul. The South's president, Roh Moo Hyun, "discussed most of the issues he wanted to discuss, and this declaration will transform the Koreas into a postwar peace footing."

The three-day meeting began Tuesday on a chilly note, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il looking dour and distant as he greeted Roh in Pyongyang.

The chill seemed to lift the next day, as Kim stunned Roh by asking him to stay around for an extra day. The invitation was politely declined and later withdrawn by Kim, who said he had talked "enough" to Roh.

Roh tried on Tuesday to lower expectations for the summit before crossing into the North.

"Even if we do not achieve many agreements, if we could narrow our differences and strengthen our mutual trust, that in itself will be an important result," he said then.

After four hours of sitting across a table from the North Korean leader during the summit, Roh said he learned that Kim is dubious of the South's motives -- and that the North does not want to be encouraged to open up its failing economy or to reform its top-down Communist government.

"The North still has many doubts toward the South," Roh told reporters Wednesday. "I felt an uneasy wall. The North still seems to harbor distrust and resistance toward the words 'reform' and 'openness.' "

The agreement announced Thursday, however, has language that seemed intended to reduce that distrust.

"North and South Korea will transcend their ideological and system differences and try to transform their relations to mutual respect and trust," the agreement said, adding that they "will not interfere with each other's domestic relations."

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