(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with Park's meeting with Merkel, joint news conference; CHANGES headline)
By Chang Jae-soon
BERLIN, March 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Wednesday to work closely together to share lessons of German unification as Seoul tries to chart a course for its own unification with North Korea.
<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20140326008752315_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='South Korean President Park Geun-hye and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint news conference in Berlin on March 26. (Yonhap)'/>
How to share Germany's experience of ending decades of national division and promoting unity in a unified nation were among the main topics for talks between Park and Merkel, along with North Korea's nuclear program and economic cooperation between the two countries.
"For us, Germany is a model for peaceful unification on the Korean Peninsula because the country has gone beyond unification and achieved national unity," Park said during a joint news conference with Merkel. "We agreed to share Germany's experiences in an effective manner."
Park laid out a series of measures the two sides agreed on for experience sharing, including building cooperative networks between financial authorities and economic think tanks in order to study how to raise the funds necessary for unification.
Merkel also said Germany will provide full support for Korean unification.
"Discussions on unification are under way between the foreign ministries of South Korea and Germany, and we will provide support so that unification will be realized in Korea," she said. "Germany was divided for 40 years and Korea has been divided for almost 70 years. I think it is our obligation to help South Korea achieve unification."
Park arrived in Berlin on Tuesday night from The Hague, where she attended an international anti-nuclear terrorism conference and held a series of meetings on its sidelines, including trilateral talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Unification is the main theme of the four-day visit to the European nation. Park could also unveil a new vision for unification when she visits the former East German economic center of Dresden later this week. She will be the first South Korean president to visit a city in former East Germany.
South Korean leaders have sometimes used trips to Germany to announce new proposals or policies on North Korea. In 2000, former President Kim Dae-jung issued the "Berlin Declaration," calling for the end of the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula and lasting peace between the two sides.
In recent months, Park has made strong pitches for unification, saying it would be an economic "bonanza" for the two Koreas as well as a blessing for neighboring countries. She also ordered the creation of a presidential committee to prepare for unification.
Merkel said Wednesday that German unification was also a bonanza (glucksfall in German).
"I would say that I myself am a product of unification," said Merkel, Germany's first East German-born chancellor. "I spent my childhood in former East Germany, and the event of the Berlin Wall falling changed the lives of 17 million people in former East Germany."
Merkel also said unification would become easier if sufficient economic preparations are made.
North Korea's nuclear program was also a key topic for Park's talks with Merkel.
"With regard to the North Korean nuclear issue, the two countries agreed to work together to get North Korea to become a responsible member of the international community based on the stern and consistent principle that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable," she said.
Park praised Germany for winning trust from neighboring countries with thorough repentance for its wartime wrongdoing, saying the European nation is a good example for three Northeast Asian nations mired in a row over history issues.
Merkel said it was because history issues were settled that the European integration was realized. She also said it takes courage and a forward-looking attitude to resolve history issues, according to Seoul's senior presidential foreign affairs secretary Ju Chul-ki.
The two leaders also agreed to further expand trade and investment while noting that last year's bilateral trade volume reached an all-time high of US$27.2 billion. On the sidelines of the summit, five memorandums of understanding were signed to call for greater cooperation on industrial technologies.
Park and Merkel have forged a personal bond since they first met in 2000 when Park visited Germany as the leader of the then-opposition party. Merkel was also the first foreign head of state to call Park to congratulate her on winning the 2012 presidential election.
Wednesday's talks were their fifth meeting.
Unification was also a main topic for Park's talks with German President Joachim Gauck earlier Wednesday.
"As in the case of German unification, our unification will never be easy, but I will make preparations one by one with a firm conviction that unification will surely come," Park said. "I firmly believe that there will come a day when our cease-fire line will fall."
Also Wednesday, Park visited the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of German unification, in a move underscoring her commitment to unification. She visited Berlin City Hall for a meeting with Mayor Klaus Wowereit and laid a wreath at the Neue Wache war memorial before holding talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
During the meeting with the mayor, Park said that Berlin has become the center of Europe after unification and is a city that gives hope for South Koreans. She also said she is very much envious of Berlin citizens freely coming and going between the formerly divided city.
"I hope a day like this will come on the Korean Peninsula as soon as possible," she said.
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