After 40-plus-hours of talks, North and South Korea on Tuesday pulled back from the brink with an accord that allows both sides to save face and, for the moment, avert the bloodshed they’ve been threatening each other with for weeks.’
In a carefully crafted, though vague, piece of diplomacy, Pyongyang expressed “regret” that two South Korean soldiers were maimed in a recent land mine blast Seoul blamed on the North. While not an acknowledgement of responsibility, let alone the “definite apology” South Korea’s president had demanded, it allows Seoul to claim some measure of victory in holding the North to account.
South Korea, for its part, halted anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts on the border, which will let the authoritarian North trumpet to its people a propaganda win over its bitter rival — and put an end to broadcasts that outside analysts say could demoralize front-line troops and inspire them to defect.
The agreement marks a good first step in easing animosity that has built since South Korea blamed North Korea for the mine explosion at the border earlier this month and restarted the propaganda broadcasts in retaliation. But, as always on the Korean Peninsula, it’s unclear how long the good mood will continue.
Despite South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s expression of hope that the North’s “regret” will help improve the Koreas’ relationship, the accord does little to address the many fundamental, long-standing differences. The announcement of further talks to be held soon in either Seoul or Pyongyang could be a beginning, but the Koreas have a history of failing to follow through on their promises and allowing simmering animosity to interrupt diplomacy.
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