South Korean President Roh Tae Woo is taking the high road to New York and Washington this week. The low-key leader plans to unveil South Korea's confident new policy of seeking reconciliation with North Korea and of building bridges to the communist world. Before departing, Mr. Roh indicated he will announce further initiatives to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula, inviting a possible role by the United Nations and by interested outside powers, including the Soviet Union and China.
Mr. Roh has eagerly sought the platform of the UN General Assembly, where today he will become the first South Korean President to address the world body. On Thursday he heads to Washington for a meeting with President Reagan.
President Roh's visit to Washington will be brief but will carry great symbolic importance. It is his first since taking office in February, following South Korea's first direct presidential election in almost 20 years. Mr. Reagan is likely to use the occasion to praise the progress of democracy in the South.
South Koreans also hope to dispell some of the anti-US imagery of the Olympic Games and to reaffirm the importance of the bilateral alliance.
``From Roh's point of view,'' said a Western diplomat reached in Seoul, ``what is actually discussed is less important than showing he is a world leader.''
The North Koreans opposed Mr. Roh's address to the UN. Neither part of Korea is a member of the world body. The North will have an opportunity to respond tomorrow when Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju is scheduled to speak.
In recent months the two Koreas, still bitter foes, have begun to hold limited talks and exchange proposals for more serious negotiations. But substantive progress remains elusive. Over the past few days, communist North Korea rejected an earlier Southern call for economic talks and raised new preconditions for a summit that each side says it desires.
The North Koreans, clearly set back by Seoul's successful hosting of the Olympics, are on the defensive. Seoul scored breakthroughs with its policy of improving relations with the communist bloc. In the latest development, Soviet and South Korean trade officials agreed Saturday to open trade offices in their respective capitals.
For Seoul, this proclaims South Korea's stature as a world power and it underlines the growing isolation of the North from its own communist allies.
The North Koreans took the initiative, earlier this summer, with proposals for talks. Pyongyang was clearly trying to feed discontent among younger South Koreans whose nationalist fervor has expressed itself in demands for reunification.
With both sides eager to avoid any blame for failure to move forward, talks between parliamentarians began last August. But they made little progress on the terms and agenda for a larger conference.
Last Thursday the two sides met again. Though both came with positions showing some flexibility from their last session, they could agree only to meet again on November 17th.
North Korea has struck a consistent theme during these maneuvers, insisting that negotiations focus on military security - specifically on reaching a ``non-aggression'' pact. The clear aim of this is to fulfill the North Korean demand that United States troops leave the South.
Most recently North Korea tried to turn around an Oct. 4 offer by Roh to meet his North Korean counterpart in Pyongyang. On Saturday, North Korea welcomed that proposal but said the South must first repeal its anticommunist National Security Law.