A Slow Korean Dance

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AGREEMENT on a plan to co-develop a resort in the scenic Mount Kumgang area of North Korea suggests that South Korea's passion for reunification may be getting somewhere. But the goal remains distant. The north, under the rigid communist rule of Kim Il Sung, has hemmed and hawed in recent months as South Korea put forward various proposals aimed at expanding contacts between the old antagonists.

A half-year of talks on staging a joint parliamentary meeting has yet to realize results, despite initial optimism in the south. South Korean leader Roh Tae Woo is hopeful of contact between the Koreas' prime ministers in the near future, but those hopes could founder on the north's customary objections to South Korean-United States military exercises.

The South Koreans have done their own kind of two-step - lifting bans on North Korean books, for instance, but still seizing a number of them as ``propaganda.''

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Still, the enthusiasm for continued attempts at bridging four decades of partition appears unquenchable.

One retired government official referred to the reunification urge as springing from ``an almost biological nationalism'' which defies the gulf in politics and economic systems.

Events like the deal between South Korean industrialist Chung Ju Yung, who was born near Mount Kumgang, and Choe Su Gil, president of North Korea's Taesong Bank, fuel hope. They indicate the north may at least be ready to indulge in a little joint capitalist enterprise.

Kim's superpower patrons, China and the Soviet Union, have long since shown their willingness to expand commercial contacts with South Korea.

And the south just formed full diplomatic relations with Hungary, its first such tie to a communist state.

Indisputably, the political tune in Korea is changing.

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