WHEN two often-vehement antagonists decide to meet for mutual talks, it can seem like a long journey indeed - even if the two sides are meeting on their own border, as North Korea and South Korea have just done.
That the two sides met at all is surely as important as the somewhat limited results of the gathering - namely, to conduct follow-up talks in early December. That's because the participants in the meeting, this one covering expansion of trade and commercial links, had in effect to traverse almost 40 years of rivalry since the Korean Peninsula was divided into two separate nations back in 1945. Such basically cordial talks as just occurred at Panmunjom should help ease tensions and promote regional stability.
Both nations have much to gain from a continuing dialogue. The communist North Korean economy continues to fall behind its more robust, capitalist counterpart to the south. North Korea could profit from joint economic ventures with South Korea. And some North Korean officials are eager to follow the lead of China and loosen somewhat the tightly controlled northern economy. The talks also allow Pyongyang to regain some international prestige, following suspicions that the North was involved in the bombing death of 17 South Korean officials in Burma last year. North Korea recently provided relief aid to victims of floods in South Korea, another step designed to help the regime gain international goodwill.
South Korea also gains from talks. The dream for eventual reunification has not been given up on either side of the border. Regional powers, such as the United States and Japan, would welcome an easing of tensions. And the talks show a South Korean government increasingly confident of itself. Seoul, it might be recalled, has taken a number of limited but dramatic steps to ease internal tensions during the past year, including releasing political prisoners, removing police from campuses, allowing student demonstrations on campuses, and restoring civil rights to some dissidents.
It is now important that both Koreas conduct their Dec. 5 talks in an orderly , businesslike manner, to follow up on the initial success of this first trade meeting.