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Members of police special forces patrol a district in front of the Convention and Exhibition Center (COEX), the venue for the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit, in Seoul on March 24, 2012, two days ahead of the opening of the summit.
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World leaders are flocking to Seoul for a summit to prevent nuclear-armed terror, but tensions over North Korea's push to arm itself with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is set to dominate the sidelines of the event, diplomats here said Sunday.
Leaders from 53 nations and four international organizations will convene Monday and Tuesday for the second Nuclear Security Summit, but North Korea's rocket launch planned for mid-April has overshadowed the global gathering.
U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Seoul earlier Sunday and then visited the tense border with North Korea, calling the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) "freedom's frontier."
"The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker," Obama, who was wearing a dark windbreaker, told a group of American troops inside the DMZ, according to a pool report. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.
Obama launched the first nuclear security summit in Washington two years ago and the Seoul summit is aimed at working out more specific actions to prevent loose nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Nuclear issues on North Korea and Iran are not on the agenda for the summit, but Seoul officials have said that the North Korean nuclear issue can be discussed bilaterally on the margins of the summit.
Except North Korea, leaders of all member countries involved in the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear drive will attend the Seoul summit. The multilateral talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since late 2008.
After a bilateral summit with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul on Sunday, Obama warned that the North's provocative move will deepen its isolation, hurt relations with neighboring countries and harm the prospects of future negotiations.
The Lee-Obama meeting, the first since the death in December of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, came amid heightened tension following the North's announcement of plans last week to launch a rocket in mid-April to put what it called a "working" satellite into orbit.
South Korea, Japan and the U.S. have defined the North's rocket launch plan as a disguised test of its improved long-range missile technology and warned that it would retaliate should the country go ahead with the plan.
The North's move also puts in jeopardy an aid-for-denuclearization deal it signed with the U.S. in late February, promising to suspend its uranium enrichment and allow in U.N. nuclear monitors in exchange for 240,000 tons of food aid.
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Friday, Gary Samore, the coordinator for arms control at the U.S. National Security Council, warned that North Korea will face a "strong response" from the U.S. and its allies if it goes ahead with the launch.
"We will be working with other countries, when President Obama is here, to try to discourage North Korea from going ahead with the proposed satellite launch," Samore said.
A principle achievement for the first nuclear security summit in Washington was gaining agreement by all 47 participating nations that nuclear terrorism is among the top global security challenges and that strong nuclear material security measures are the most effective way to prevent it.
The Seoul summit will serve as a "stepping stone" to translate the political will generated at the Washington summit into action, while laying a cornerstone for attaining key nuclear security goals in the mid and long-term, Seoul diplomats said.
Negotiators, or "sherpas" from the 53 participating nations for the Seoul summit, held their final meeting in Seoul on Friday and fixed the agenda for the Seoul summit and the text of the so-called "Seoul Communique" that will be announced at the end of the summit, said Hahn Choong-hee, a spokesman for the summit.
On the sidelines of the two-day summit, President Lee will also hold a series of bilateral summit meetings with China's Hu Jintao and Russia's Dmitry Medvedev to discuss the issue of the North's planned rocket launch.
Obama and Hu are also scheduled to hold a bilateral summit during the nuclear security conference.
On the eve of the largest summit hosted by South Korea, more than 20 heads of state, including Chinese President Hu and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, arrived in Seoul.
Before the summit begins on Monday afternoon, leaders from 23 nations, including Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, will touch down in the South Korean capital, organizers said.
During the summit, Noda will tell about the lessons his government has learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The summit's main agenda includes ensuring atomic safety.
A powerful earthquake and an ensuing tsunami devastated Japan's Northeastern region last March, killing some 20,000 people. It destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plants, causing environmental havoc to the area.
The accident, classified as the worst nuclear calamity since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, prompted countries with nuclear power plants to further review the safety of their atomic energy.
Media attention is high. Organizers said more than 3,000 journalists from around the world have been registered.
Security is tight at the summit's venue in southern Seoul, the Convention and Exhibition Center (COEX).
Police have raised the nation's terror alert to the highest level, "severe," ahead of the summit.
Tens of thousands of police officers have been dispatched to COEX as well as airports, foreign consulates and hotels where nuclear summit leaders will stay during the summit. Police officials have been placed on emergency standby in every subway station in the capital.
Seoul officials said that the Netherlands has agreed to host the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014. At the Seoul summit, South Korea will likely formally name the Netherlands as the host for the next summit.
Source: Yonhap News Agency