S. Korea halts broad­casts as Koreas reach deal

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY HYUNG- JIN KIM AND FOSTER KLUG

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.

AP

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.

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