Reunions open other issuesReunions of separated Korean families will resume after two years. At the Red Cross talks that concluded yesterday, the two Koreas agreed to stage reunions for 100 people from each side of the border ahead of the Chuseok holidays. By alleviating the pain these families bear, we also have a tangible chance to help thaw chilled inter-Korean relations.
These were the first semi-governmental talks between the Koreas under the Lee Myung-bak administration, and could have a positive impact on opening the path for dialogue at a formal governmental level.
At the Red Cross meeting, both sides stood firm on their principles and yet demonstrated flexibility. The South Korean delegation stressed the non-political nature of the reunions. It called for regular reunions and the resolution of issues involving South Korean prisoners of war and abductees.
But to realize the matter at hand - resuming the reunion program - the South was willing to make concessions. If the South had been adamant on other matters, it would have been difficult to issue the joint statement.
The North also took a step back and accepted the Mount Kumgang family visiting center as the venue for the reunions.
By agreeing to “continue to discuss humanitarian issues from the standpoint of developing inter-Korean relations,” the two Koreas have also left room for additional reunions, resolution of the issue of prisoners of war and abductees, and South Korean humanitarian aid to the North.
This is the result of the balance between principle and flexibility. While the separated families themselves may find room for improvement, it was no mean feat to open lines of dialogue that have been closed since the beginning of the Lee administration.
There is the inherent obstacle of the North Korean nuclear standoff, just as there are several issues that must be resolved through inter-Korean dialogue. Tourism programs to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong, which were suspended after a South Korean tourist was fatally shot at the mountain resort, constitute one issue, while the controversy surrounding land use fees and a hike in wages for North Korean workers at Kaesong constitute another.
While Seoul and Washington feel the tourism and Kaesong issues are outside the requirements of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874, it may be difficult to get the issues fully resolved while the international community is applying pressure on Pyongyang. But these problems must be resolved through both flexibility and principle, as was the case at the Red Cross talks.