First step toward peaceReunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War are set to take place at a tourism resort on Mount Kumgang, North Korea, from Oct. 20 to 26. We welcome the long-awaited event, which was agreed to by South and North Korean officials after 43-hour marathon talks at Panmunjom last month. The resumption of the family reunions after an 18-month hiatus will serve as a priceless present for those families who lost hope amid tense inter-Korean relations since the land mine blasts at the border in August.
But there are many stumbling blocks down the road. First of all, there is a possibility of the North test-firing long-range missiles or conducting a fourth nuclear test - pegged to the North’s 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party on Oct. 10. If Pyongyang resorts to such provocations before the Oct. 20-26 family reunions, Seoul will obviously face serious trouble pushing ahead with them.
As it turns out, Tuesday’s working-level talks between the South and North to fix the date and number of families for the reunions reportedly was extended due to the North’s insistence on a date after Oct. 20. Some North Korea experts speculated that the North has chosen the Oct. 20-26 period for the reunion to allow it to make a provocation shortly before or after the Oct. 10 Workers’ Party anniversary and avoid international criticism.
It is a shame our government could not reach consensus on other matters like regular reunions, video reunions, exchanges of letters and visits. Even though both sides agreed to continue dialogue, North Korea was focused on three practical matters only - a date, place and the size of the reunions - which hints at the possibility of Pyongyang trying to hold the reunions as a one-time event.
Of course, it’s better than no meetings at all, as both sides agreed to send 100 families each to the reunions. But there are too many separated families - a total of 65,907 - in the South and the clock is ticking fast as over 80 percent of those relatives are over the age of 70.
There is no solution other than the demonstration of sincerity by the North. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said, “Let’s respect the Aug. 25 agreement and make it bear abundant fruit.” He can prove the veracity of his words by controlling his appetite for provocations. At the same time, our government must persuade the North to take a path toward peace. Candidness is the key to lifting the May 24, 2010 sanctions. Holding reunions on a regular basis is the first step toward the goal.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 9, Page 34