S. Korea halts broadcasts as Koreas reach deal
South Korea says it got an apology. North Korea says its archrival learned a “serious lesson.” That’s how compromises are engineered on a peninsula that has technically been at war for more than 60 years.
Seoul halted anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts over loudspeakers on the border Tuesday, hours after North Korea expressed “regret” over two South Korean soldiers maimed by recent land mine blasts. The North’s carefully worded yet vague statement, produced after more than 40 hours of talks between the countries, helped bring the rivals back from threats that seemed set to spin out of control last week.
The Koreas also struck an important humanitarian agreement by promising to begin talks in September to plan emotional reunions of families separated by the Korean War. The reunions could take place as early as October, considering the 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, citing office rules.
It’s unclear how long the good mood will continue: The Koreas have a history of failing to follow through on their promises and allowing simmering animosity to interrupt diplomacy. But in the short term at least, the deal was a relief, easing prospects of fighting between two countries that had seemed equally unwilling to give ground to the other.
“I hope the two sides faithfully implement the agreements and build up (mutual) confidence through a dialogue and cooperation 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.
Pyongyang had denied involvement in the land mine explosions earlier this month. South Korea resumed its loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border in response to the blast.
Last week, Seoul said North Korea launched an artillery barrage in response to the broadcasts. Pyongyang denied it, but South Korea’s military answered with substantially greater firepower, sending dozens of artillery rounds across the border.
No injuries were reported in either incident, but the North reacted with fury, declaring that its front-line troops were in full war readiness and prepared to go to battle unless Seoul dismantled the loudspeakers by Saturday. South Korea warned that if it were attacked it would respond with much greater force.
Negotiations began Saturday at the border village of Panmunjom, where the Koreas agreed to the 1953 cease-fire that stopped fighting in the Korean War.
Marathon Sessions Are the Rule
While the Koreas have difficulty agreeing to talks, once they do, marathon sessions are often the rule. After decades of animosity and bloodshed, finding common ground is a challenge. During the latest Panmunjom talks, the first session lasted about 10 hours and the second session about 33 hours.
South Korean President Park Geun- hye had demanded a “definite apology” over the land mine blasts, and Kim, the Seoul negotiator, described the North’s expression of “regret” as an apology.
Appearing on North Korea’s official Korean Central TV on Tuesday afternoon, Hwang Pyong So, who was one of the North’s negotiators, indicated that, despite the expression of regret, Pyongyang had no intention of taking responsibility for the land mine explosions.
Hwang, the top political officer in the Korean People’s Army, said the South learned a “serious lesson” that it should not provoke the North by “creating a groundless incident” that raised tension and increased the possibility of a military clash. Hwang, however, ended his short TV appearance on a positive note, expressing hope that the accord would provide an opportunity for improved ties.
Pyongyang’s decision to send Hwang to the talks was considered a signal of its seriousness since he is considered by outside analysts to be North Korea’s second most important official after supreme leader Kim Jong Un.
The negotiations also resulted in Pyongyang agreeing to lift a “quasi-state of war” it declared last week, according to South Korea’s presidential office and North Korea’s state media.
A visitor reads messages on ribbons wishing for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 25.