South Korea rejects North's offer to extend summit

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SEOUL, Oct 3 (Reuters) South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun rejected a proposal by the North Korean leader today to extend their summit meeting for another day, South Korea's YTN television reported.

And in a pool report from Pyongyang, a presidential spokesman said Roh would issue a joint statement with North Korea's Kim Jong-il tomorrow and return to Seoul that day as scheduled.

No reason was given but earlier Roh was quoted as telling reporters in Pyongyang that he felt a ''wall, hard to tear down'' in his talks with Kim.

''(The North) does not completely trust South Korea. To actively proceed with the things we want to do, we need to overcome this wall of mistrust,'' a pool report quoted Roh as saying.

He cited as an example Pyongyang's dissatisfaction with the speed of development of an industrial park run by the South in Kaesong, a former royal capital just north of the border between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war.

A South Korean spokesman quoted Kim Jong-il as saying at the end of a meeting with Roh: ''We have had sufficient dialogue so it (another day) may not be necessary. You have people waiting in the South so let's do it as we had planned.'' A South Korean presidential spokesman said earlier in Seoul that Kim had proposed adding an extra day to the summit, only the second in more than 60 years of national division. so that their talks could be more substantive and relaxed.

The three-day meeting comes amid news of an imminent deal between North Korea and regional powers to unwind Pyongyang's nuclear arms programme and put an end to years of bluster, threats and diplomatic wrangling.

Late on Tuesday, the United States suggested that the international community was close to a deal that would lead to massive aid for the North and an end to its isolation if it finally gives up its ambition to become a nuclear weapons power.

The chief US envoy to nuclear talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States said he expected a draft statement in the next day or two on a timetable to disable North Korea's Soviet-era nuclear complex by the end of this year.

MORE AFFABLE Before driving north yesterday, Roh had said he wanted the summit to ease tensions and help his impoverished communist neighbour. Yet his first encounter with a dour, unsmiling Kim in Pyongyang yesterday did not augur well.

It was a far more affable North Korean leader who turned up on Wednesday ahead of formal talks, television footage showed.

Film-buff Kim's face lit up when he saw gifts from Roh: a painted room screen, high quality tea and a collection of DVDs that included a drama about a royal court cook starring one of Kim's favourite South Korean actresses, Lee Young-ae.

While it is a crime for ordinary North Koreans to watch films from the South, they made an ideal gift for the revered leader.

The atomic deal, almost exactly a year after the North had conducted its first nuclear test, eases domestic and international pressure on Roh to force disarmament concessions out of Kim.

His critics said the visit was aimed more at domestic politics and expected Roh to skirt the nuclear weapons issue and mass human rights abuses so as not to offend his host.

Roh insisted the summit would foster peace on the peninsula, partitioned since the end of World War Two, and help the ruined economy of the North which maintains one of the world's largest standing armies, mostly stationed near their common border.

South Korean officials say only an organic approach will end one of the region's biggest security threats and bring the North in from the cold.

They point to the need to build up the North's economy, which has come close to collapse under Kim, leader since 1994 when he , inherited his position and personality cult from his father.

Few details have leaked out on what the two leaders have discussed other than that they touched on peace and economic cooperation.

South Korean officials said before the summit Seoul could pledge aid worth billions of dollars to rebuild the North's creaking infrastructure and the foes might sign an agreement to ease tensions on the Cold War's last frontier.

Roh is still expected to witness one of the North's typical mass games extravaganzas this evening, complete with goose-stepping soldiers, dancing schoolgirls and a large flip card animation section that promotes unification under the North's communist banner.


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