Posted September. 13, 2005 07:33,
The Ministry of Unification said peace on the Korean Peninsula will be the focus of the 16th inter-Korean ministerial talks that start today in Pyeongyang. The Ministry said the reason it will focus on peace on the Korean Peninsula in these ministerial talks is because inter-Korean cooperation needs to be expanded from economic and social areas to political and military fields, and because the time is ripe for discussing peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Although the Unification Ministry is using the vague term peace issue, peace on the Korean Peninsula will likely involve converting the 1953 Armistice Agreement signed by the U.S., China and North Korea into a peace agreement. Whatever term we may use--for example, we may use peace issue or peace regime--it all boils down to a matter of a peace agreement. In light of this, the Ministry seems to be deliberately avoiding the main point of the issue.
Changes in attitude on the part of North Korea are a prerequisite for any talks on a peace agreement. Although Korea did not sign the Armistice Agreement, it waged the Korean War as part of the ROK-U.S. combined forces and is the party to the armistice. However, North Korea is not admitting the South as a party to the Armistice Agreement. Thats why the Four-Party Talks, which were aimed at establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula and held five times from March 1997 up until April 1999, bore no results and fizzled out. The two Koreas, the U.S. and China took part in the talks, and South Korea and the U.S. took the initiative at the talks.
Discussion on peace inevitably entails dealing with political and military issues. Thats why it should be dealt with through general-level military talks. However, the two Koreas have yet to set a date for general-level military talks.
The Unification Ministry seems to be putting too much emphasis on the fact that North Korea agreed to discuss the peace regime in the fourth round of six-party talks last month. However, the ministry should realize that the Norths strategic response to the U.S. agenda of getting the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions is replacing the nuclear issue with the peace regime issue. Other than that, there is no reason for the North to be reluctant to set a date for general-level military talks when it already agreed to hold the talks on Baekdu Mountain.
Therefore, with the conclusion of negotiations on the nuclear issue in doubt, if South Korean officials insist on having discussions on the peace regime, it is highly likely that the North will mention what they want in just one line in a joint-statement and demand other things in return.
Without a doubt, if there is one issue that should be resolved urgently, it is the North Korean nuclear issue. Only when this issue is resolved will a breakthrough be created in U.S.-North Korean relations and the concerned parties be able to discuss practical issues related to the peace regime.