Koreas clinch his­toric deal

Lesotho Times - - International -

SEOUL — Af­ter 40-plus-hours of talks, North and South Korea on Tues­day pulled back from the brink with an ac­cord that al­lows both sides to save face and, for the mo­ment, avert the blood­shed they’ve been threat­en­ing each other with for weeks. In a care­fully crafted, though vague, piece of diplo­macy, Py­ongyang ex­pressed “re­gret” that two South Korean sol­diers were maimed in a re­cent land mine blast Seoul blamed on the North. While not an ac­knowl­edge­ment of re­spon­si­bil­ity, let alone the “def­i­nite apol­ogy” South Korea’s pres­i­dent had de­manded, it al­lows Seoul to claim some mea­sure of vic­tory in hold­ing the North to ac­count. South Korea, for its part, halted an­tiPy­ongyang pro­pa­ganda broad­casts on the bor­der, which will let the au­thor­i­tar­ian North trum­pet to its peo­ple a pro­pa­ganda win over its bit­ter ri­val, and put an end to broad­casts that out­side an­a­lysts say could de­mor­al­ize front-line troops and in­spire them to de­fect. The agree­ment marks a good first step in eas­ing an­i­mos­ity that has built since South Korea blamed North Korea for the mine ex­plo­sion at the bor­der ear­lier this month and restarted the pro­pa­ganda broad­casts in re­tal­i­a­tion. But, as al­ways on the Korean Penin­sula, it’s un­clear how long the good mood will con­tinue. De­spite South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye’s ex­pres­sion of hope that the North’s “re­gret” will help im­prove the Koreas’ re­la­tion­ship, the ac­cord does lit­tle to ad­dress the many fun­da­men­tal, long-stand­ing dif­fer­ences. The an­nounce­ment of fur­ther talks to be held soon in ei­ther Seoul or Py­ongyang could be a be­gin­ning, but the Koreas have a history of fail­ing to fol­low through on their prom­ises and al­low­ing sim­mer­ing an­i­mos­ity to in­ter­rupt diplo­macy. The ne­go­ti­a­tions that be­gan Satur­day at the bor­der vil­lage of Pan­munjom, where the Ko- reas agreed to the 1953 ceasefire that stopped fight­ing in the Korean War, also re­sulted in Py­ongyang agree­ing to lift a “quasi-state of war” de­clared last week, ac­cord­ing to South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial of­fice and North Korea’s state media.

While this dec­la­ra­tion was largely a mat­ter of rhetoric, the bor­der is the world’s most heav­ily armed and there has never been a for­mal peace agree­ment end­ing the Korean War, so the area is al­ways es­sen­tially in a “qua­sis­tate of war” there had been grow­ing worry about South Korean re­ports that the North con­tin­ued to pre­pare for a fight dur­ing the talks, mov­ing un­usual num­bers of troops and sub­marines to the bor­der.

The Koreas also struck an im­por­tant hu­man­i­tar­ian agree­ment by promis­ing to re­sume in Septem­ber the emo­tional re­unions of fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by the Korean War.

They said more re­unions would fol­low, but there were no im­me­di­ate de­tails. The next round of re­unions could take place as early as Oc­to­ber, con­sid­er­ing the prepa­ra­tion time needed to match rel­a­tives and agree on a venue, said an of­fi­cial from Seoul’s Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry, who didn’t want to be named, and cit­ing of­fice rules.

In a sig­nal of North Korea’s se­ri­ous­ness, Py­ongyang sent to the talks Hwang Py­ong So, the top po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer for the Korean Peo­ple’s Army and con­sid­ered by out­side an­a­lysts to be North Korea’s sec­ond most im­por­tant of­fi­cial af­ter supreme leader Kim Jong Un.

“I hope the two sides faith­fully im­ple­ment the agree­ments and build up (mu­tual) con­fi­dence through a di­a­logue and co-op­er­a­tion and that it serves as a chance to work out new South-north re­la­tions,” chief South Korean ne­go­tia­tor and pres­i­den­tial na­tional se­cu­rity di­rec­tor Kim Kwan-jin said in a tele­vised news con­fer­ence.

The United States quickly wel­comed the agree­ment and the prospect of ten­sions drop­ping.

Kim, the Seoul ne­go­tia­tor, de­scribed the North’s ex­pres­sion of “re­gret” as an apol­ogy and said the loud­speaker cam­paign would end at noon on Tues­day un­less an “ab­nor­mal” event oc­curs. — AP

South Korean pres­i­den­tial se­cu­rity ad­viser Kim Kwan-jin (right) shakes hands with hwang Py­ong So, north Korea’s top po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer for the Korean Peo­ple’s Army on Tues­day.

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