Sustained talks are vital to stability on the Korean peninsula
What passes for normal on the Korean peninsula has returned after the North and South struck a last-minute agreement to end a worrying border stand-off. Pyongyang has lifted its "quasi" state of war, soldiers have pulled back and loudspeakers broadcasting propaganda have been shut down by Seoul. The deal does nothing to make the North's leader Kim Jong-un more predictable, though, nor does it address his country's nuclear and missile programmes. There is every reason that the accord should be the start of fresh efforts to improve relations and resume regional diplomacy.
Annual war games between the South and its ally, the US, could well have prompted the North to return to its attention-seeking ways. The flare-up began on August 4 when two South Korean soldiers were injured by a North Korean landmine, prompting the South to resume broadcasts for the first time in 11 years. That sparked cross-border fire and heated rhetoric. Tensions rise regularly along the boundary, the last legacy of the Cold War, but the manner in which a deal was negotiated gives cause for optimism that the momentum can continue.
China and the US have usually been at the ready to ease friction. But both have been frustrated by Pyongyang, particularly over its refusal to resume Beijing-sponsored six-party nuclear talks. There have also been the distractions of preparations for the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war and campaigning for next year's US presidential election. This time, the Koreas had to handle their own affairs.
Their accord has calmed tensions. They pledged to arrange reunions next month for families split by the still unresolved 1950-53 Korean War and promised to renew non-government organisation exchanges. Importantly, though, they agreed officials should hold talks at an early date to improve ties.
Tension between the Koreas affects not just the peninsula, but all of northeast Asia. Diplomacy is key to peace and stability and ensuring sustained negotiations is a vital part.