The last cold-war frontier thaws
North and South Korean leaders sign historic agreement Wednesday to move toward reunification of the peninsula.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
Transcending decades of fraternal hatred, the leaders of North and South Korea raised hands together yesterday, promising to unite their people and dismantle the cold war's last frontier.Skip to next paragraph
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South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il signed an agreement to increase cultural and economic ties, reunify families, ease tensions, and work toward eventual reunification.
As the free-market South offers increased investment and assistance to the totalitarian North in exchange for a greater sense of peace, the leaders of both countries are demonstrating a cooperation that would have been inconceivable just months ago.
Officials in Seoul said yesterday they would speed up delivery of 200,000 metric tons of fertilizer in time for hunger-stricken North Korea's rice-planting season. Officials told Reuters that they would also ask the National Assembly to approve an extra $450 million in economic aid for the North.
During talks Wednesday the leaders discussed opening highway and railway lines across the two countries' border for the first time in more than 50 years, holding a second summit in Seoul, and creating a "hot line" telephone service for discussions in case of a crisis.
The agreement comes after two days of meetings in which the two Kims - leaders of opposing armies that straddle the capitalist-communist divide - exchanged jokes, toasted each other, and, during one limousine ride, held hands.
People in both countries will cheer a deal that cuts a path, however vague, toward reunification. Others will question the wisdom of dealing with a North Korean regime that has yet to prove a commitment to reform. Still others will worry about the impact of better inter-Korean relations on the balance of power in northeast Asia.
It will not escape notice in Washington, Tokyo, and other capitals that this week's summit meeting in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang has produced few noticeable results on some issues of international concern: North Korea's nuclear ambitions, its development of missiles and weapons of mass destruction, and its human rights record.
But the friends of South Korea also seem to recognize that first things must come first between the two Koreas. One of the most emotive issues is the need to reunify families separated by national division, especially since older Koreans are dying without having seen their loved ones.
In remarks at a ceremonial dinner last night, President Kim sounded elated by what he and Kim Jong Il had achieved.
"We have long waited for this," said President Kim. " Just a little while ago this kind of dream seemed impossible.... We are headed in the path of reconciliation, unification, and peace."
For Koreans, a substantive agreement promises not just closeness to each other but the prospect of a strengthened sovereignty. As President Kim said at dinner: "I firmly believe the fate of our people is ours to forge."