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S.Korea leader proposes peace park with North

President of South Korea Park Geun-hye addresses a joint meeting of Congress on May 8, 2013 in Washington, DC
President of South Korea Park Geun-hye addresses a joint meeting of Congress on May 8, 2013 in Washington, DC. South Korea's president on Wednesday proposed an international park on the tense border with North Korea as part of a region-wide peace initiati

South Korea's president on Wednesday proposed an international park on the tense border with North Korea as part of a region-wide peace initiative to put an end to constant cycles of crisis.

In an address to a joint meeting of the US Congress, President Park Geun-Hye warned that the Demilitarized Zone dividing the neighbors was in fact "the most militarized place on the planet" and a risk to the world.

"The Demilitarized Zone must live up to its name, a zone that strengthens the peace, not undermines it," Park said.

"It is with this vision in mind that I hope to work toward an international park inside the DMZ. It will be a park that sends a message of peace to all of humanity," she said.

The proposal, while vague in detail, marks a shift in tone from the newly elected conservative leader who vowed a day earlier with President Barack Obama to take a hard line after months of soaring tensions with North Korea.

South Korean soldiers watch a North Korean building in the demilitarised zone between the two on April 23, 2013
South Korean soldiers watch a North Korean building in the demilitarised zone between the two on April 23, 2013.

The most visible symbol of cooperation between North and South Korea -- the Kaesong industrial park inside the impoverished communist side -- has been suspended amid the democratic South's fears for its citizens' safety.

Park also called for a broader initiative in Northeast Asia, where friction involving regional heavyweights China and Japan have also been on the rise.

The South Korean leader called for regional nations to step up cooperation on issue such as environmental issues and disaster relief. She said the United States should take part -- and that North Korea could eventually join.

"We cannot afford to put off a multilateral dialogue process in Northeast Asia. Together, the United States and other Northeast Asian partners could start with softer issues," she said.

"Of course, North Korea could also be invited to join. If we start where our interests overlap, then later it will be easier to find common ground on the larger challenges," she said.

Park described the proposal as part of her idea of "trustpolitik" -- stabilizing relations between the two Koreas -- that she laid out before her election as a way to find a new path to the six-decade conflict.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (right) inspects a science academy in  Pyongyang, in a photo released on May 6, 2013
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (right) inspects a science academy in suburban Pyongyang, in a photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 6, 2013.

But tensions soared after December as North Korea launched a small satellite and carried out its third nuclear test. In remarks apocalyptic even by North Korea's standards, young leader Kim Jong-Un threatened nuclear war against the United States and South Korea.

Friction has appeared to ebb in the past week, with a US defense official saying that North Korea moved from launch site two mid-range Musudan missiles -- meaning, at least for now, there will be no imminent launch.

A state-run bank in China, the main benefactor of North Korea, said it was shutting down a North Korean account linked to the nuclear program. The United States has pressed China for years to take action against Pyongyang.

In another conciliatory note, Park said that she was open to humanitarian assistance to North Korea, saying that help to suffering children should not be linked to politics.

But Park stood by her insistence that she would not offer concessions to North Korea, vowing that South Korea would never accept Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons state.

South Korea "is backed by the might of our alliance. So long as this continues, you may rest assured -- no North Korean provocation can succeed," she said to one of the loudest ovations from lawmakers.

Park, the first woman leader in Northeast Asia and daughter of slain dictator Park Chung-Hee, has used the trip to show full unity with the United States on the 60th anniversary of the armistice that halted the Korean War.

Turning the page firmly from the anti-US sentiment in South Korea a decade ago, Park greeted US veterans watching her speech from the gallery and threw a gala dinner for veterans and Korean Americans on Tuesday night.

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