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KOREAN LEADERS SURPRISE WITH CALL TO FORMALLY END WAR

by Antoaneta Bezlova

READ
Finally, Cold War Is Ending In Korea (2005)

(IPS) BEIJING -- Surpassing all expectations historic talks between the leaders of North and South Korea in Pyongyang have produced a joint declaration that seeks a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean war and bridge distrust, a vestige of the Cold War years.

The document signed Thursday between South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il -- only the second such meeting held between the two countries -- also invites the United States and China, participants in the Korean war, to help draft a peace treaty to replace the 54-year-old armistice and establish a permanent peace.

The two Koreas are still technically at war and the Demilitarized Zone -- a remnant of the war, which Roh called the "forbidden wall" -- divides the peninsula The U.S. military continues to maintain about 28,000 troops in South Korea.

Added significance is being given to the deal since it comes during a week when the North Korean government made its firmest commitment yet to dismantle its nuclear program through a pledge to disable the main reactor complex at Yongbyon and fully disclose all of its nuclear operations by the end of the year.


China, which has played host to the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., Russia and Japan, welcomed both developments, saying they would lay the foundations for the establishment of a permanent peace on the peninsula.

"China consistently supports efforts by the North and South to improve bilateral relations and realise reconciliation and cooperation through dialogue," said the foreign ministry in a statement posted on its official website. "We welcome the positive results of the summit and believe it will be conducive to the peaceful progress of the Korean peninsula and the stability of the region."

Bush, who has called North Korea a member of the "axis of evil," yesterday held up the progress in Pyongyang's denuclearization process as a case study for Iran, saying Washington might hold direct talks with Tehran, if it first froze sensitive atomic work.

Commenting on the nuclear disarmament agreement, Bush said the deal "will secure the future peace and prosperity of the North-east Asia region."

The U.S. has agreed to lead the disablement activities and provide the initial funding. Washington has also bowed to a key demand of Pyongyang, saying it would remove North Korea from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, without giving a timetable for the action.

Of the two pacts made by North Korea this week, it is the Pyongyang summit declaration that has exceeded observers' expectations.

The nuclear arms deal announced in Beijing after a round of the six-party talks reiterates a commitment made by the North in February when it agreed in principle to give up its nuclear program in exchange for one million tons of heavy fuel oil, or the monetary equivalent in other aid. The agreement was accepted by the six parties despite recent intelligence coming out of Israel, which alleged that Pyongyang may have been sharing weapons technology with Syria.

The declaration signed at the summit talks in Pyongyang though, represents a "substantive leap forward," according to the Korean affairs expert Li Dunqiu.

"The commitment of both sides to pursue a formal peace treaty to end the war means that both sides are willing to shake off the binds of the Cold War and work towards reconciliation and eventual reunification," he said.

When first announced in August, the summit talks generated little expectation with detractors describing them as "political ploy" of the largely unpopular South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun to sway public opinion in the country's upcoming presidential election. Conservative opponents of Roh Moo Hyun, who are leading his center-left party in opinion polls, criticized the timing of the summit and its ambiguous agenda, saying it was unlikely to achieve much apart from symbolic gestures.

For North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, agreeing to summit talks -- seven years after his first meeting with former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, was seen as a last chance for his regime to obtain economic concessions from Roh 's liberal government before the December presidential elections. South Korean public has grown more and more skeptical of Roh's "peace and prosperity" policy toward the North since Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon last year.

"By agreeing to the summit, Kim could be seen as rewarding Roh's policy of ‘peace and prosperity,'" said Zhu Feng, an expert on international relations at the Beijing University. "But he could also use the summit with the South to make a statement to the U.S. and Japan that his regime is no longer so isolated and ostracized by everybody."

Kim Jong Il, whose 23 million people are isolated and dependent on the regime's handouts of food and fuel, has been reluctant to follow its neighbor China's lead in reforming and opening up the economy. North Korea suffered a devastating famine in the late 1990s and remains one of the world 's poorest countries.

To this end, finalising a peace treaty with the South could open the doors to foreign investment and technology entering the North and rebuilding its struggling economy, say experts.

"Creating a ‘joint economic community,' which is Roh's wish, could prove to be a win-win strategy for both sides," says Li Dunqiu. "The gradual merging of both economies could serve as a foundation for eventual reunification of the two countries."

In the joint declaration, the North and South ‘'agreed to closely cooperate to end military hostility, ease tension and ensure peace on the peninsula.'

The two sides also agreed to work towards the establishment of special economic zones in the North, which would use North Korean labor and serve to improve people's living standards as well as help bind the two economies.



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Albion Monitor   October 5, 2007   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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