[EDITORIALS]Keep North talks open

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[EDITORIALS]Keep North talks open

North and South Korea have agreed to normalize their frozen ties by rejoining their severed cross-border railways and roads, holding family reunions and resuming dialogues. Pyeongyang accepted President Kim Dae-jung's request that the North should restart dialogues with the United States and Japan, whose relationships with the Stalinist state have soured. We believe that the latest development has paved the way for easing the instability on the Korean Peninsula that has been mounting since the launch of the Bush administration in the United States. In that respect, we welcome the results of the recent visit to Pyeongyang by the South Korean presidential envoy Lim Dong-Won.

But it is only the beginning. As Mr. Lim said during the news conference after returning to Seoul, the two Koreas agreed to put back on track what had already been agreed to. Previous pacts have been frozen because the North stayed away from the discussion table and did not fulfill its promises. The most important thing is whether Pyeongyang is ready and willing to break its old habit of opening its door when it wants something and shutting that door when it doesn't agree with something.

Therefore, the South Korean government should come up with measures to force the North to carry out agreements during future negotiations that will be held openly or behind closed doors. The latest agreement is meaningful in that it aims to promote stability on the peninsula and rapprochement between the two Koreas. But details of the accord are focused on Seoul's provision of economic support for the North. The government should try to clarify ambiguous agreements at every step of providing economic aid and make sure that Pyeongyang enhances transparency in how it distributes aid supplies. Only by doing so will the controversy over giving unilateral assistance be muted, and will the public agree to providing help for the Communist country. It is all the more so if the Kim administration wants its "sunshine policy" of engagement with the North to be followed by the next government.

The public has concerns whether there were secret agreements that were not announced in the joint statement by the two Koreas. The question is whether the latest accord was reached by Seoul and Pyeongyang out of the need to tide over political difficulties the two governments face. Had there been any backdoor dealing, the government would not be able to keep the secret for long.

We pay particular attention to the fact that the two governments discussed a proposed return visit by Kim Jong-Il to Seoul. Already there are concerns that the North Korean leader's visit might be the subject of a surprise announcement for political purposes. At least in order to clear itself of such suspicion, the South Korean government and Mr. Lim should unveil details of the agreement and its process.

Seoul should also make clearer its posture regarding the North's suspected development of weapons of mass destruction and the repatriation of South Korean soldiers held by the North since the 1950-1953 Korean War. If South Korea continues to take a passive attitude on those thorny issues, the United States may slow down its efforts to mend fences with the North. Most important, the two Koreas must implement what they have agreed to do so that the situation on the peninsula will be stabilized and Pyeongyang can expect broad support from the international community.
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