- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

The embrace of Cold War foes North and South Korea this week sparked hopes for peace tempered by U.S. warnings of a continuing military threat from the reclusive communist North.

The three-day summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung ended today following an agreement to reunite families separated for nearly five decades, and to take other steps to build confidence between the bitter foes.

The two Kims behaved in public like long-lost cousins, hugging each other and sharing a champagne toast, with the normally dour Kim Jong-il smiling broadly, clasping his guest's hand and savoring the spotlight.

At stake for the United States is an end to the threat of war on the divided peninsula, where millions perished during a fratricidal conflict in the early 1950s that also claimed the lives of more than 30,000 Americans. Some 37,000 U.S. troops remain in South Korea today.

"We certainly hope [the summit] begins a process to reduce tensions on the peninsula," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

But he said he saw no easing of the threat to the United States from a new generation of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles a menace responsible, in part, for a U.S. proposal to build a national missile defense.

"Certainly a reduction in tensions is important, but on the specific issue of the possible missile threat, I haven't seen nor heard of anything in this summit that negates that," Mr. Boucher said.

Many private analysts also warned that tensions on the Korean Peninsula were likely to remain both volatile and unpredictable.

The two Kims ended the visit by issuing a vaguely worded seven-paragraph statement agreeing to:

• Work toward eventual unification of the divided peninsula.

• Move to reunite families separated for five decades by one of the world's last Cold War divides.

• Promote investment by South Korean companies in the North.

It also called for a reciprocal visit by the North Korean leader to Seoul at an undesignated "appropriate" time.

"The atmospherics were great, but in terms of substance, the outcome was very meager," said Nicholas Eberstadt, a researcher at Harvard University and the American Enterprise Institute.

The final communique, Mr. Eberstadt said, was far less detailed than agreements signed in the early 1990s that covered economic cooperation, confidence-building measures, family visits and nuclear proliferation.

Analysts said the North, a nation of 20 million ravaged by famine and mass starvation, was driven to the negotiating table by the need for increased aid and investment.

Economic ties between the two have increased with the announcement of deals by South Korean companies to build car factories and industrial parks in the North.

In what could be the first of many U.S. business deals with North Korea, a Maryland telecommunications company has signed an agreement to provide international telephone links.

The deal, first reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, involves Startec Global Communications Corp. and South Korea's state-owned Korea Posts & Telecommunications Co.

Pyongyang in recent months has also established formal diplomatic ties with Italy and Australia and opened negotiations with other nations, including Germany, Canada and the Philippines.

"There's no doubt that North Korea needs economic benefits and economic assistance from the outside world. If we're careful, we can get progress on the issues important to us, especially the security concerns," said Joel Kit, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

He and others cited fears of North Korean attempts to build nuclear weapons, its capability to launch multistage rockets capable of reaching the United States, and its million-man army poised along the border with South Korea.

The threat of North Korean missiles figures prominently in a U.S. proposal to build a national missile defense, beginning with a series of interceptor rockets in Alaska.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide