A friendly start

Sunday News - - WORLD -

SEOUL North Korea’s state me­dia yes­ter­day trum­peted leader Kim Jong-un’s ‘‘im­mor­tal achieve­ment’’ a day af­ter he met South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and re­peated past vows to re­move nu­clear weapons from the penin­sula and work to­wards a for­mal end to the Korean War.

But de­spite the bold dec­la­ra­tions, the leaders failed to pro­vide any new mea­sures on a nu­clear stand­off that has cap­ti­vated and ter­ri­fied mil­lions, and an­a­lysts ex­pressed doubts on whether the sum­mit rep­re­sented a real break­through.

The North’s of­fi­cial Korean Cen­tral News Agency, in typ­i­cally fawn­ing lan­guage, re­ported that the leaders ex­changed ‘‘hon­est and heart­felt talks’’ at a sum­mit that ‘‘was a re­al­i­sa­tion of the supreme leader’s blaz­ing love for the na­tion and un­yield­ing will for self-re­liance’’. The state pro­pa­ganda arm said Kim’s ‘‘im­mor­tal achieve­ment will be brightly en­graved in the his­tory of the Korean na­tion’s uni­fi­ca­tion’’.

Even if the sub­stance on nu­clear mat­ters was light, the im­ages at Pan­munjom were strik­ing: Kim and Moon set aside a year that saw them seem­ingly on the verge of war, grasped hands and strode to­gether across the cracked con­crete slab that marks the Koreas’ bor­der.

The sight, in­con­ceiv­able just months ago, al­lowed the leaders to step for­ward to­wards the pos­si­bil­ity of a co­op­er­a­tive fu­ture even as they ac­knowl­edged a fraught past and the wide­spread skep­ti­cism that, af­ter decades of failed diplo­macy, things will be any dif­fer­ent this time.

On the nu­clear is­sue, they merely re­peated a pre­vi­ous vow to rid their penin­sula of nu­clear weapons, say­ing they would achieve a ‘‘nu­clear-free Korean Penin­sula through com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion’’. This kicks one of the world’s most press­ing is­sues down the road to a muchan­tic­i­pated sum­mit be­tween Kim and United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in com­ing weeks.

‘‘There is no ref­er­ence to ver­i­fi­ca­tion, timeta­bles, or an at­tempt to de­fine the word ‘com­plete’. It does not re­it­er­ate or ad­vance Py­ongyang’s uni­lat­eral of­fer to halt nu­clear and ICBM tests,’’ said Adam Mount, a se­nior de­fence an­a­lyst at the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists.

‘‘In prac­tice, this state­ment should en­able a US-North Korea sum­mit to de­tail specifics about what, when, and how de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion would oc­cur, but it has not of­fered a head start on that process. All of the ne­go­ti­a­tion is left to a US team that is un­der­staffed and has lit­tle time to pre­pare.’’

Still, the sum­mit pro­duced the spec­ta­cle of two men from na­tions with a deep and bit­ter his­tory of ac­ri­mony grin­ning from ear to ear af­ter Kim walked over the bor­der to greet Moon, be­com­ing the first leader of his na­tion to set foot on south­ern soil since the Korean War. Both leaders then briefly stepped to­gether into the North and back to the South.

The sum­mit marked a sur­real, whiplash swing in re­la­tions for the coun­tries, from nu­clear threats and mis­sile tests to in­ti­ma­tions of peace and co­op­er­a­tion. Per­haps the change was best il­lus­trated by ge­og­ra­phy: Kim and Moon’s his­toric hand­shake and a later 30-minute con­ver­sa­tion at a foot­bridge on the bor­der oc­curred within walk­ing dis­tance of the spot where a North Korean sol­dier fled south in a hail of gun­fire last year, and where North Korean sol­diers killed two US sol­diers with axes in 1976.

Stand­ing next to Moon af­ter the talks ended, Kim de­clared that the Koreas were ‘‘linked by blood as a fam­ily and com­pa­tri­ots who can­not live sep­a­rately’’.

The lat­est dec­la­ra­tion be­tween the Koreas, Kim said, should not re­peat the ‘‘un­for­tu­nate his­tory of past in­ter-Korean agree­ments that only reached the start­ing line’’ be­fore be­com­ing derailed.

What hap­pened at the sum­mit should be seen in the con­text of the past year, when the US, its ally South Korea and North Korea threat­ened and raged as the North un­leashed a tor­rent of weapons tests – but also in light of the long, de­struc­tive his­tory of the ri­val Koreas, who fought one of the 20th cen­tury’s blood­i­est con­flicts and oc­cupy a di­vided penin­sula that is still tech­ni­cally in a state of war.

Trump tweeted yes­ter­day, ‘‘KOREANWARTO END!’’ and said the US ‘‘should be very proud of what is now tak­ing place in Korea!’’.

Both Koreas agreed to jointly push for talks this year with the US and also po­ten­tially China to of­fi­cially end the Korean War, which stopped with an armistice.

Many will be judg­ing the sum­mit based on the weak nu­clear lan­guage. North Korea’s nu­clear and mis­sile tests last year likely put it on the thresh­old of be­com­ing a le­git­i­mate nu­clear power. The North, which has spent decades doggedly build­ing its bombs de­spite crip­pling sanc­tions and near-con­stant in­ter­na­tional op­pro­brium, claims it has al­ready risen to that level.

South Korean con­ser­va­tive politi­cians crit­i­cised the joint state­ment as let­ting North Korea off the hook by fail­ing to se­cure a clear com­mit­ment on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.

But Moon agreed to visit Py­ongyang, North Korea’s cap­i­tal, later this year; both leaders said they would meet and talk on a reg­u­lar ba­sis; and they set­tled their dis­agree­ment over their western mar­itime bor­der, by des­ig­nat­ing it as a peace area and se­cur­ing fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for both coun­tries. They also said they would re­sume tem­po­rary re­unions of rel­a­tives sep­a­rated by GETTY IM­AGES

‘ I feel like I’m fir­ing a flare at the start­ing line in the mo­ment of writ­ing a new his­tory in North-South re­la­tions, peace and pros­per­ity.’ KIM JONG-UN

the 1950-53 Korean War.

‘‘I feel like I’m fir­ing a flare at the start­ing line in the mo­ment of [the two Koreas] writ­ing a new his­tory in North-South re­la­tions, peace and pros­per­ity,’’ Kim told Moon as they sat at a ta­ble, which had been built so that ex­actly 2018 mil­lime­tres sep­a­rated them, to be­gin their closed-door talks.

Kim ac­knowl­edged the skep­ti­cism.

‘‘We have reached big agree­ments be­fore but were un­able to ful­fil them . . . There are skep­ti­cal views on whether the meet­ing to­day will yield mean­ing­ful re­sults. If we main­tain a firm will and pro­ceed for­ward hand in hand, it will be im­pos­si­ble at least for things to get worse than they are now.’’

Ex­pec­ta­tions were gen­er­ally low on the nu­clear is­sue, given that past so-called break­throughs on North Korea’s weapons have col­lapsed amid ac­ri­mo­nious charges of cheat­ing and bad faith. Skep­tics of en­gage­ment have long said that the North of­ten turns to in­ter­minable rounds of diplo­macy meant to ease the pain of sanc­tions – giv­ing it time to per­fect its weapons and win aid for un­ful­filled nu­clear prom­ises. AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in pose for pho­tos dur­ing their sum­mit in Pan­munjom, South Korea. They re­peated past vows to re­move nu­clear weapons from the Korean Penin­sula, but failed to out­line any new...

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