SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s president walked across North Korea’s border Tuesday on his way to Pyongyang for a summit with Kim Jong Il, pledging to foster peace on the divided peninsula in the second-ever such meeting between its leaders.

Roh Moo-hyun and his wife Kwon Yang-sook stepped across a yellow plastic strip marked with the words “peace” and “prosperity” and laid across the Military Demarcation Line that divides the Koreas in the middle of the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone.

Crossing near the North Korean city of Kaesong, the South Korean delegation was greeted by North Korean officials and women in traditional Korean hanbok dresses bearing bouquets.

“This line is a wall that has divided the nation for a half-century. Our people have suffered from too many hardships and development has been held up due to this wall,” Roh said. “This line will be gradually erased and the wall will fall. I will make efforts to make my walk across the border an occasion to remove the forbidden wall and move toward peace and prosperity.”

The presidential motorcade will make the entire 125-mile journey from Seoul to Pyongyang. For the first summit between the Koreas in 2000, then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung traveled by plane, although land crossings by other officials are not rare.

The meeting comes at a time of talks over disarmament, with North Korean negotiators set to respond Tuesday to the latest road map.

Nearly a year ago, the North tested a nuclear bomb, rattling regional stability and leading to a dramatic turnaround in a previously hard-line U.S. policy.

Since then, Pyongyang has shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor, which produced material for bombs, and has tentatively agreed to disable its atomic facilities by year-end in a way that they cannot easily be restarted.

North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Pak Gil Yon, said Monday that his government is looking to the summit to ease tensions and improve relations. He told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, the meeting resulted from “the good atmosphere” between the two governments.

Accompanied by industry leaders, politicians and cultural figures, Roh will spend hours in dialogue with Kim, tour the country and watch the spectacle of thousands of synchronized performers glorifying the North’s communist regime.

Before leaving the South Korean capital, Roh said he would build on the achievements from the first North-South summit and “hasten the slow march” in reconciliation between the two countries, which remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire.

“I intend to concentrate on making substantive and concrete progress that will bring about a peace settlement together with economic development,” he said.

Roh acknowledged Tuesday that ridding the North of nuclear weapons and establishing a peace treaty could not be realized by the two Koreas alone.

Pyongyang has participated in international talks including the U.S. and other regional powers on its nuclear program that were set to reconvene Tuesday. A peace agreement to end the Korean War would require participation of the U.S. and China, which also fought in that conflict.

But the South Korean leader said, “I believe the determination of the two Koreas is more crucial than anything else when it comes to outlining the basic direction and picking up the pace of the movement forward.”

Roh said he would work to establish a concrete agreement on “building military trust and addressing humanitarian matters.”

Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung told reporters in Seoul Monday that the two Koreas would discuss peace in broad terms, but acknowledged they could not tackle the issue alone. Any real peace treaty would require the participation of the United States and China, which signed the original armistice. North Korea also signed, while the South did not.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Monday that the United States generally supports such North-South contacts, and that nuclear matters would likely be discussed. He added, “I don’t think that there’s anything particular about their conversations, though, that will change substantively the discussions that just occurred in Beijing.” He declined to comment further.

The meeting has political undertones for Roh, who leaves office in February. The conservative South Korean opposition has criticized the summit as a ploy aimed at bolstering his sagging popularity, along with that of liberals aligned with him, just two months before the next presidential election.

The North’s Kim is also angling to keep the conservatives from power in Seoul, fearful they will reverse the policy of engagement that has brought his impoverished country aid and income despite its continued development of nuclear weapons.

But Roh insists there is never a bad time to improve relations between the Koreas. He is traveling to Kim’s stronghold of Pyongyang, even though the North Korean leader had promised in 2000 to come to the South for a return summit.

The first summit won former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung the Nobel Peace Prize for his “sunshine policy,” but the achievement was tainted by revelations of some $500 million in secret payments to Pyongyang.

Since then, the two Koreas have reconnected rail and road links across their border and established a joint industrial zone in a North Korean border city. Thousands of Korean families divided between North and South have also met in brief and emotional reunions.

Associated Press writer Alexandra Olson at the United Nations contributed to this report.

AP-ES-10-01-07 2117EDT

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