- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

The leaders of North and South Korea exchanged far more than the staple summit pleasantries this week. The two countries took an initial step towards ending the cold war that has persisted between them since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Typically, warm handshakes, jovial repartee and a champagne toast are de rigueur at meetings between heads of state. In the case of North and South Korea, though, these gestures signal a meaningful message. The North, it would appear, plans to stop vilifying South Korea publicly. This would go a long way towards establishing an amicable environment that could lead to closer ties, maybe even reunification.

In addition to sharing smiles and handshakes, the two leaders made some headway on humanitarian, cultural and even economic issues. North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, promised South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung that he would allow some of the 7 million South Koreans with family in the North the opportunity to visit their relatives. Many Koreans haven't seen their kin on the other side of the border for half a century. The reunions would likely take place around Aug. 15, which marks the liberation of Korea from Japanese occupation at the end of World War II. But there were no details as to how many families would be allowed to make the trip north. (Family reunification may cause the North Korean leader some political embarrassment, since South Koreans are considerably more prosperous, earning a per capita income of $13,366 to the North's $741.)

The two leaders also pledged to begin as soon as possible the repatriation of long-term political prisoners and promote economic, cultural and sports exchanges. Businessmen at the summit said a joint economic committee should be established to foster accords on investment protection guarantees, avoidance of double taxation, payment settlement, fund transfers and protection of intellectual property.

In addition, the North and South talked about eventual reunification. "History gives us opportunities only once. Reunification is not for the future but for the present," said Kim Yong-nam, number two in the North Korean hierarchy. Although this type of rhetoric is ground-breaking, neither side is expected to want to bring down border barriers in the short term. Furthermore, estimates of the cost of reunification start at $200 billion.

As expected, the leaders didn't discuss the most pressing issue on the Korean peninsula: the North's missile and nuclear programs. The South Korean president's sunshine policy with the North will really begin to pay off when it leads to mutual military disarmament. In the meantime, summits that ease tensions on the Korean peninsula will help ensure global security. One hopes the friendship established this week will further that end.

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