BY STAFF REPORTER
POPE BENEDICT XVI has told the South Korean government that he shares its concerns over the nuclear arms race in the region.
With the aid of interpreters, the Pope and President Roh Moohyun spoke privately for roughly 25 minutes last week before Benedict XVI handed the political leader a letter expressing his concerns about North Korea's nuclear programme and about the continued separation of families on either side of North-South Korean border.
President Roh's visit to the Vatican came just two days after North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States reached a tentative agreement to put a stop to the development of
more nuclear weapons by North Korea. The agreement demands that North Korea closes its main nuclear reactor, permits international inspectors into the country and begins to disclose details of its nuclear-related activities.
The nations involved in the talks promised to give significant aid, particularly fuel oil, to North Korea in return for its compliance.
In his letter to President Roh, the Pontiff said: "The risk of a nuclear arms race in the region [is] a source of concern fully shared by the Holy See."
Benedict XVI urged the countries involved in the so-called SixParty Talks "to make every effort to resolve the present tensions through peaceful means and to refrain from any gesture or initia
five that might endanger the negotiations".
The Pope also stressed a point he had made several times in the past, that countries must not withhold or threaten to withhold humanitarian aid to North Korea's poorest citizens as bargaining tool in the negotiating process.
He told the South Korean government that he understood the pain people on both sides of the border have experienced over the past 50 years because of the political division of the two Koreas.
"Families have been split, close relatives have been separated from one another," he said. "Please let them know that I am spiritually close to them in their suffering. On compassionate grounds, I pray for a speedy solution to the problem, which impedes so many from communicating with one another."
In a statement released on February 15, officials from North Korea and South Korea announced that their two governments would resume talks on trade and humanitarian aid in late February. In the face of North Korean militarism and Iran's ambitions to develop a nuclear arsenal, the Vatican has warned that the world is "sleepwalking" into an age of terror.
The Church has never sanctioned nuclear deterrence as a permanent method of securing peace, according to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, papal nuncio to the United Nations.
"When the Holy See expressed its limited acceptance of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War it was with the clearly stated condition that deterrence was only a step towards progressive nuclear disarmament," he said.
In Britain, the Church hierarchy has repeatedly told the Government that it cannot warn other nations against developing nuclear weapons without first committing to disarmament itself by ditching Trident, the nuclear defence system.
"How can we pursue a replacement for Trident and then tell other nations such as Iran and North Korea that they cannot pursue a nuclear capability?"
asked Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue of Lancaster. 'What is happening is that we are fighting terror with terror. We should look more closely at the root causes of violence and war."