Door to peace between two Koreas must open wider
First talks in two years between Seoul and Pyongyang offer hope and go beyond next month’s Winter Olympics; every effort should be made to further thaw relations
The positive atmosphere that permeated the talks between the two Koreas on Tuesday is what the peninsula and region need in such tense times.
Negotiations were amicable, even friendly, with the sides obviously intent on making progress. They agreed to the participation of North Korea in the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang next month, to resume military consultations and resolve problems through dialogue.
These are small, but important steps in creating solid foundations necessary to ensure a sustained thaw in relations.
Ties between the Koreas are cold and both delegations were well aware of the challenges. But relations are not so frozen that delegates were unable to make light of circumstances, with remarks about how appropriate it was that the weather outside the meeting room in the border truce village of Panmunjeom was so frigid.
There was also an understanding of the need to move forward and the result was constructive dialogue that augers well for promised future talks on wider issues. They would be given a considerable boost should the teams of the two Koreas symbolically appear at the opening ceremony of the Games under the unification flag, as happened in 2000 at the Sydney Summer Olympics.
But although the meeting went smoothly, the path ahead is uncertain. A serious complication is the war rhetoric of US President Donald Trump’s administration, and the military alliance between Washington and Seoul is bound to affect the direction of negotiations.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised the US leader, suggesting talks could have been forced by US-led sanctions and pressure. There is also no doubt that dialogue would not have taken place had the US refused a call by the North to delay planned war games with the South until after the Olympics.
Hanging over whatever talks take place are the North’s nuclear and missile programmes, which have brought so much instability to East Asia. Moon said the initial aim of discussions was improving relations between North and South, but denuclearisation talks were the final goal.
They will be some way off; Pyongyang says its weapons are aimed at the United States and Trump refuses to negotiate as long as it maintains its arsenal.
Optimism also has to be tempered by a history of North Korea reneging on deals.
The fatigue from such experience and the resolve of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to develop nuclear bombs and long-range missiles is why the talks were the first between the Koreas for two years. But hope should never be given up, particularly when words of war are in the air. A door to peace has opened and every effort has to be made by both Koreas and the US to push it wider.