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S. Korean President Says Recent N. Korean Actions Could Speed Reunification - 2002-09-23

At a meeting of European and Asian leaders, South Korea's president has said recent North Korean actions could speed the reunification of the peninsula. The statement came amid discussion of a variety of issues, including Iraq and terrorism.

South Korean President Kim Dae jung said Monday that North Korea's recent overtures point to the eventual reunification of the Korean peninsula. Mr. Kim urged the 25 members of ASEM, the Asia-Europe Meeting, to support the current moves toward reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Earlier, Mr. Kim met on the summit sidelines with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has just returned from a one-day visit to Pyongyang for talks with the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The Japanese and South Korean leaders have been working closely together to lure North Korea out of its isolation. The two are backing a statement that would commit the ASEM group to help in deepening Pyongyang's involvement with the international community.

In a private ASEM dinner Sunday night, President Kim and Prime Minister Koizumi both outlined the fast-developing changes on the Korean peninsula, where work is beginning on mine-clearing and reopening road and rail links with the South.

Mr. Koizumi said Japan's relations with North Korea have improved substantially. And a senior Asian diplomat at the summit said South Korea and Japan are also hoping that the recent developments might prompt President Bush to re-evaluate his position on North Korea, which he labeled earlier this year as part of an axis of evil.

The two-day ASEM group meeting, began with a call from the host, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for a co-ordinated effort to combat the threat of international terrorism.

"In light of the tragic events of September 11, the bridge building role of ASEM is even more called for," he said. "We must firmly reject any attempt by extremist forces to divide the international community on the basis of race, ethnic background or religious persuasion."

Mr. Rasmussen was quoted Monday as saying that the Asian and European leaders had agreed that Iraq must re-admit arms inspectors as quickly as possible and grant them full access to its facilities.