Too early for optimism

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Too early for optimism

After high-level talks between South and North Korea at Panmunjom ended, the North has withdrawn its declaration of a quasi-state of war and the South has stopped its loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border.

The six-point agreement after a 43-hour marathon meeting has prevented both sides from heading into a catastrophe by easing the tension triggered by land mine explosions that injured two soldiers. The North expressed “regret over recent land mine blasts that occurred on the southern side of the demilitarized zone.”

The four officials at the meeting - South Korea’s Director of National Security Kim Kwan-jin and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo and their North Korean counterparts Hwang Pyong-so, the director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean Army and Kim Yang-gon, the secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party - hammered out the joint agreement in a breathtaking war of words on behalf of their leaders. We applaud their perseverance and wisdom to turn the crisis into an opportunity.

At first glance, the agreement may appear disappointing. The wording of the agreement does not specify who is accountable for placing the land mines. Despite our government’s explanation that it’s obvious by the stated “regret,” the wording is blurry. A pledge not to repeat such provocations is also missing.

The government seems happy with the “stipulation of our right to resume loudspeaker propaganda campaigns in times of emergency,” but it is unclear what “emergency” is referring to.

Regardless, the North’s step back could be our accomplishment. “Regret” is a diplomatic term for “apology.” The North’s retreat can translate into Pyongyang’s submission to President Park’s firm position to cut the vicious cycle of “provocation, dialogue and a quid pro quo” once and for all.

As it turns out, North Korea proposed the high-level talks before President Park took the opportunity. Both Koreas also agreed to the union of separated families and promotion of civilian exchanges. Yet it’s too early to pin our hopes on a dramatic turnaround, as evidenced by frequently interrupted reunions in the past.

Despite the dramatic ending of the talks, it’s too early to be optimistic about inter-Korean relations. To move forward, North Korea must end its whimsical provocations. And both sides should have dialogue with sincerity to open a new chapter in the conflict-ridden history of the Korean Peninsula.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 26, Page 30

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