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Calmy-Rey calls for end to Korean stand-off

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has called for a peaceful solution to the stand-off over North Korea's nuclear capability.

Calmy-Rey will become the first foreign government official on Tuesday to cross the demarcation line separating North and South Korea.

"Switzerland insists on the negotiated settlement of all issues related to the Korean Peninsula," said Calmy-Rey.

Swiss officials said the foreign minister made the comments during talks with her North Korean counterpart, Paek Nam Sun, in Pyongyang.

Calmy-Rey also visited a number of Swiss-sponsored development aid projects in the country.

On Tuesday she is due to walk across the heavily fortified border into South Korea.

In a historic move, Calmy-Rey will travel through the four-kilometre buffer - the demilitarised zone (DMZ) - separating the two countries to the border village of Panmunjom.

She wll conclude her ten-day tour of the Far East with a stop in China.

Political analyst Hans Hirter says Calmy-Rey is hoping to use the visit to raise Switzerland's diplomatic profile around the world.

"She wants to play an active role and show not only Swiss citizens, but everyone in the world, that Switzerland can be a dynamic partner in looking for peace and freedom."

Symbolic gesture

But Hirter doubts whether her visit will have much impact on relations between North and South Korea, which soured following revelations of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

Hirter says crossing the DMZ is more of a symbolic gesture tied to Switzerland's traditional role as a monitor of the 1953 ceasefire.

"I don't think Switzerland or any small country in the western world can do much to improve the situation between North and South Korea," he told swissinfo.

"It's probably just the United States, China and the two Koreas themselves that have the power to change anything there."

Switzerland has been one of two countries - the other one is Sweden - to have personnel stationed permanently at Panmunjom since 1953, as part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea.

Nuclear debate

Calmy-Rey's first stop will be in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Although she will meet her North Korean counterpart, there has been no confirmation whether she will hold talks with the country's leader, Kim Jong-il.

There has been speculation that she will discuss the subject of North Korea's nuclear programme. Although this has not been confirmed officially, Hirter says he would not be surprised if the Swiss foreign minister raised the issue.

"If there is an opportunity she will seize it," he said. "Although, realistically, there isn't a great chance of Switzerland being able to get involved in the issue."

Calmy-Rey will also visit several projects run by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation before crossing the DMZ into South Korea.

The second part of her trip will mark another first for Calmy-Rey: no other Swiss foreign minister has ever made an official visit to South Korea.

Sars spectre

The final leg of the tri-nation trip will be a stopover in China.

Calmy-Rey's stay in the capital, Beijing, has been kept to a minimum because of the Sars outbreak in the country.

Sars has also forced the foreign minister to rethink her itinerary. She had originally planned to go to Beijing and then fly to the Korean peninsula.

But as Pyongyang has imposed some of the toughest measures in Asia to prevent the spread of Sars, Calmy-Rey reversed her schedule and is chartering the Swiss government's private jet to fly directly to the North Korean capital.

While there has been some criticism in the Swiss press over the costs of the trip, as well as suggestions that Calmy-Rey should have cancelled or postponed the visit, Hirter says the debate is nothing more than a "storm in a teacup".

"The trip has been planned for months - even more before Calmy-Rey took office," he said.

"A great part of foreign policy is diplomacy, and a trip like this one cannot be cancelled in the same way as perhaps a holiday. It's much more complicated."

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

In brief

Calmy-Rey's ten-day trip will take her to North and South Korea and China.

On Tuesday she will become the first foreign government official to cross the demarcation line between North and South Korea.

Swiss personnel have been stationed at Panmunjom as part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea (NNSC) since 1953.

Today five Swiss and five Swedish representatives are on duty for the NNSC.

end of infobox


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