- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006

DIAMOND MOUNTAIN, North Korea — A hollow building frame, idle cranes and no construction workers in sight at this North Korean mountain resort are bitter reminders of dashed hopes for building a permanent reunion center for families separated by the Korean border.

The building’s construction at this South Korean-run resort has been on hold since the North launched a barrage of missiles in July over international objections.

With North Korea now pledging to test an atomic bomb, the fate of projects such as these and other attempts to end decades of hostility across the world’s last Cold War frontier hang in the balance.

A test “poses a real problem for South Korea because it tried 40-odd years of containment, and now it’s committed to engagement,” said Michael Breen, author of books about the peninsula and a longtime Korea watcher. “They know if you disengage that things are going to get worse.”

South Korea has consistently pursued dialogue with the North since their leaders held their first summit in 2000. That approach has also caused a rift with its longtime ally the United States, which favors a harder line in pressuring the communist regime to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Diamond Mountain is the only place in North Korea that foreigners can easily visit. More than 1 million tourists — mostly South Koreans — have come to hike the unspoiled mountains since 1998, but the number of visitors has dropped sharply since the North’s missile tests.

North Koreans at the resort are quick to blame the United States for the standoff over their nuclear program. They also complain that South Koreans side with “the U.S. imperialists” rather than their own brethren in the North — echoing the propaganda issued daily by the country’s state press.

“It’s all U.S. imperialists’ faults,” Chae Jung Hae, a North Korean guide, said during a trip to the resort just before the North said it would carry out a nuclear test. “If it weren’t for the North’s military, we wouldn’t have been able to defend the Korean Peninsula from the U.S. imperialists who constantly try to devour the North and the South.”

Another North Korean guide, Paek Soon Hee, said: “If North and South join forces and stand up against the U.S., there is no way the U.S. can tell us to do this and that on our own matters.”

South Korea has warned the North against conducting a nuclear test, while stressing that it won’t abandon its engagement policy toward the North.

The current South Korean government — which follows a so-called “sunshine policy” that won former President Kim Dae-jung a Nobel Peace Prize — has also faced growing domestic calls to take a tougher line.

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