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Calmy-Rey acts as Koreas' go-between

Calmy-Rey meets President Roh Moo Hyun in Seoul

(Keystone)

The Swiss foreign minister has conveyed three messages from North Korea to South Korea's president, Roh Moo Hyun.

During talks in Seoul, Micheline Calmy-Rey reiterated that Switzerland was willing to act as a mediator to resolve the current nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula.

Relations between the two neighbours have soured since October, following revelations about the North's nuclear programme.

Roh Moo Hyun praised Calmy-Rey's historic crossing of the demarcation line between North and South on Tuesday.

"For me, it is very significant that you crossed at Panmunjom, because it is a sign of opening towards peace," he said.

Their half-hour meeting took place in the Presidential Office at the end of a three-day official visit to South Korea.

"We talked openly and he said he was satisfied with the messenger role Switzerland was playing," said Calmy-Rey.

Building bridges

During her talks with the South Korean president, the Swiss foreign minister passed on three messages from Pyongyang regarding relations between the two Koreas.

Calmy-Rey said the first message was the one symbolised by her crossing the heavily fortified border from North to South Korea.

"That Pyongyang accepted for our delegation to cross the military demarcation line is a sign in itself," she told swissinfo.

"The North Koreans had to ask the American forces stationed at Panmunjom for authorisation to allow us to cross, and that had symbolic value."

Calmy-Rey became the first non-Korean government official to cross the four-kilometre-wide Demilitarised Zone between the two Koreas on Tuesday.

"The second message from the North Koreans was that their objective remains the creation of a confederation between the two Koreas," she said.

"The third was Pyongyang's wish to hold talks with the United States. The ball is now in their [the Americans] court."

Mediation

Calmy-Rey also expressed Switzerland's availability to act as a "facilitator" for Seoul in possible talks over the future of the Korean peninsula.

She extended the same offer to her North Korean counterpart, Paek Nam Sun, earlier in the week.

Calmy-Rey once again stressed that any Swiss role would depend on all parties involved agreeing to it.

She said Switzerland would not be an active player, but that the facilitator role could involve a number of different arrangements.

"It could mean transmitting messages to ease contacts between members of the civil society; it could mean using international gatherings to enhancing contacts or it could even mean facilitating contacts between experts in different areas," she said.

Calmy-Rey told swissinfo that Washington was being kept fully abreast of the content of her talks.

Dialogue

Speaking about Swiss relations with North Korea, Calmy-Rey said that her country had always promoted peaceful settlements of conflicts and dialogue.

"In this sense, we encouraged North Korea to comply with its international obligations, to rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to find a peaceful settlement of the problem of the Korean peninsula," she added.

Thursday's talks between Calmy-Rey and Roh came in the wake of a dip in relations between North and South Korea.

South Korea has suspended a series of discussions with Pyongyang, after the North warned Seoul against backing US efforts to resolve the crisis.

The Swiss foreign minister is due to fly to Beijing on Friday for the final leg of her eight-day Far East tour.

swissinfo, Juliet Linley in Seoul

Key facts

Thursday also marked the 50th anniversary of Switzerland's Observer Mission, stationed on the demarcation line between the two Koreas.
Swiss personnel have been stationed at Panmunjom as part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea (NNSC).
The NNSC was appointed to monitor the 1953 armistice.

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