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[Editorial] Regretful outcome of 2nd ministerial talks

Posted August. 31, 2000 20:53,   


The second inter-Korean ministerial meeting that was concluded Wednesday in Pyongyang produced some agreements on several issues, including mutual economic cooperation. The talks` overall achievements, however, fall far too short of meeting our expectations. Most regretful is the fact that no progress was made on such pivotal issues as the building of a lasting structure of peace on the Korean peninsula.

Nevertheless, it is reassuring that the delegates of the two Koreas came to an agreement to arrange institutional devices for economic collaborations. They agreed to work out at working-level meetings the safety measures for investments, prevention of double taxation, clearance and settlements, as well as ways and means for the arbitration of disputes. Certainly, those arrangements are indispensable to activate economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

Equally reassuring is the fact that the separated families can have further hopes and expectations as North Korea`s Defense Chairman Kim Jong-Il already assured us of two additional family reunions within this year.

What concerns us here, however, is Pyongyang`s rather lukewarm response to Seoul`s agenda, which includes the repatriation of South Korean POWs and abductees, the establishment of permanent reunion centers and the installation of direct military hotlines between the two Koreas.

We hope that Pyongyang`s response is not indicative of some murky road ahead for the future of inter-Korean relations. We cannot erase the impression that Pyongyang tried to somehow avoid what we consider to be the central issues of the Pyongyang talks. We will wait and see whether the North`s meager response at the second ministerial meeting was due to Defense Chairman Kim`s assurance for speedy and watershed progress in the third round of talks.

Many speculations are possible about the North`s negative attitude toward discussing Seoul`s military agenda. It may be due to opposition from the North`s military forces, or because of Pyongyang`s diplomatic strategy to directly negotiate the peninsula`s peace issues with Washington. But, such military agendas as the installation of military hotlines and inter-Korean military talks constitute the pivotal issue between the two Koreas in view of the peninsula`s stark reality that each side still levels its gun at the other. This being the case, the military agenda must have had the priority for mutual discussion.

Also incomprehensible is the North`s attitude toward South Korean POWs and kidnapped people. Pyongyang insists that it has no South Korean abductees. Whether or not that is really the case must be determined by Pyongyang`s demonstration of willingness to jointly confirm the life or death of some 400 abductees on Seoul`s list. We would argue the same about the South

Korean POWs. The North`s persistent and unconditional denial of their existence is hardly convincing or persuasive in view of the fact that Seoul has repeatedly indicated even their specific names.

The agreement for mutual exchange of tourists for to tour Mt. Bakdu and Mt. Halla was a meaningful outcome of the Pyongyang meeting. Instead of such a symbolic and showy event, however, the narrowing of mutual differences over such essential issues as peace and easing of tensions on the peninsula will make the historic June 15 Declaration vital and more meaningful.

Any viable settlement of the South-North Issue will consume no small amount of time. But, it is imperative that the two sides must be clear about the right priorities of their agenda. Our hope is that the South and the North Korean delegates can make steady progress on such essential inter-Korean issues at their third round of talks.