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Free trade high on Key's agenda ahead of summit

Published: 10:12PM Sunday March 25, 2012 Source: ONE News/Reuters

Free trade negotiations were high on the agenda today when Prime Minister John Key met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Key is in Seoul for talks with US President Barack Obama and 52 other world leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit.

The gathering is a follow-up to the inaugural nuclear security summit US President Obama organised in Washington in 2010 to help combat the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The aim of the two-day summit is to secure nuclear material and prevent it from being smuggled to states or groups intent on destruction.

While North Korea and Iran are not on the guest list or the official agenda, they are expected to be the main focus of Obama's array of bilateral meetings on the side-lines of the gathering.

But today, President Lee Myung-bak and Key began their meeting at the official residence of the Korean leader, the Blue House, where the president congratulated the prime minister on New Zealand's win of the Rugby World Cup.

President Lee Myung-bak noted that the win would have helped Key at the election, to which Key replied 'it didn't hurt'.

Key and President Myung-bak are expected to talk about free trade negotiations, which have been on hold for a couple of years.

It is the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Obama peers into tense Korean DMZ

Meanwhile, Obama has arrived today on the eve of the global summit, and has visited South Korea's tense border with the North.

Obama's first stop before holding talks with President Lee Myung-bak was the DMZ, a 4-km wide buffer that cuts through the peninsula stretching from coast to coast. Then US president Bill Clinton called it the "scariest place on Earth" during a visit in 1993.

It was drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 civil conflict, which ended in a truce that has yet to be finalised with a permanent peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas in effect still at war.

Obama's visit coincided with the end of the 100-day mourning period for the North's long-time leader, Kim Jong-il, who died in December.

Tens of thousands of people crammed into Kim Il-sung Square, named after Kim Jong-il's father and the state's founder, in central Pyongyang to mark the occasion.

Flags flew at half-mast in "every nook and corner" of the country and sirens and whistles sounded at midday, state media said. North Koreans "overcome with grief" observed three minutes' silence.

The state's new young leader, Kim Jong-un, the third member of the Kim family to rule the state, bowed before a portrait of his father at the palace where he lies in state. He was joined by his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and military chief Ri Yong-ho.

The young Kim himself made a surprise trip to the DMZ at the start of the month.

He looked across the border through binoculars and told troops to "maintain the maximum alertness since (they) stand in confrontation with the enemy at all times".