The World from Berlin Defusing the Dangerous Legacy of the Korean War

The two Koreas, democratic South and totalitarian North, have agreed to pursue a peace treaty 54 years after the end of the Korean War. Pyongyang has also announced its intention to disable its nuclear facilities and hold arms talks with Washington, but German commentators wonder if Kim Jong Il means business.


South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, left, toasts with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il after declaring a joint reconciliation pact.
AP

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, left, toasts with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il after declaring a joint reconciliation pact.

The leaders of North and South Korea agreed on Thursday to pursue a peace treaty 54 years after the Korean War ended in an armistice. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun issued a joint declaration at the end of their three-day summit in Pyongyang in which they pledged to end the decades-long standoff. The two countries agreed to establish a new economic zone on North Korea's west coast and to further intensify economic ties between the countries, which have developed rapidly over the last ten years.

The meeting, only the second ever between the leaders of the two Koreas, is intended to pave the way for six-nation talks "for the solution of the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula." South Korea sent special envoys on Friday to the United States, China, Japan and Russia to brief them on this week's summit. Earlier this week North Korea agreed to hold arms talks with Washington on the issue of its nuclear program.

Establishing a peace treaty would require the participation of the US and China, who also fought in the 1950-53 Korean War. US President George W. Bush has already indicated he is willing to formally end the war but only after Pyongyang's complete nuclear disarmament.

On Friday, Germany's commentators took stock of the summit and pondered if peace has finally come to the Korean peninsula.

SPIEGEL ONLINE writes:

"The two sides have not come one bit closer when it comes to the important questions: Under what circumstances, if at all, will North Korea's Kim Jong Il abandon his nuclear bombs? It is estimated that he has 40 to 50 kilograms of plutonium which could produce up to 10 bombs. Pyongyang has already announced that it will open up all nuclear facilities by the end of the year, but will not release information on the bombs."

"North Korea could become a normal trading partner, and be allowed credit at the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. But that doesn’t mean that Washington and Pyongyang won't maneuver each other into a Catch-22. The US position could be: 'He has to give up the bombs and then we can talk about diplomatic relations and a peace treaty.' And Pyongyang might say: 'First we'll sign a peace treaty then we will negotiate about the bombs."

"Kim has agreed to the Beijing nuclear deal because he is obviously in over his head: His people have been starving for years, last month he had to relax the strict state-run economy and with it control over the population. There is a steady flow of unsettling information coming into the country from China. The regime needs urgent help from the outside."

"Has the Korean peninsula become safer? Only a tiny bit, if at all."

Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Kim Jong Il and Roh Moo-hyun are not the puppets of their protectors in Beijing and Washington. But it is these powers who will have to guarantee any security arrangement in the future. The only way to fundamentally disarm or even end the Cold War in Korea is if China and the US agree on the arrangements on the peninsula."

"The good news is that the prospects are better now than they have been in half a century … The governments in Beijing and Washington seem to be interested in defusing the dangerous legacy of Korea. And the ideological conflict that was fought there is long over."

"There are limits to the willingness to compromise on both sides. China will not allow the Kim dictatorship to collapse or North Korea to fall out of its zone of influence. ... Bush has made clear that he will only agree to a peace agreement if North Korea ends its nuclear program."

The conservative newspaper Die Welt writes:

"Just like the earlier German policy of détente, the Korean 'Sunshine Diplomacy' is based on baby steps. ... But a rapid reunification is unlikely. If one wants to compare Germany to Korea, then the two states are now where the two Germanys were in the 1960s just after the Berlin Wall went up. It will still take some time. And more important than détente is the abandonment of North Korea's nuclear power stations. The Americans will monitor the dismantling of the nuclear facilities. If this is carried out in earnest, then the world will have one less danger to worry about. Everything else will follow."

The center-right Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"It remains to be seen who will profit from this arranged cooperation and whether the rulers in Pyongyang will use the misery of their people to ensure they stay in power."

"The most important question remains: To what extent can the Stalinist regime open up the country without endangering its authority? The South Koreans will be happy to use every opportunity to make contact with their countrymen in the North. Meanwhile, to the extent they are allowed to, the people in the North will see every opportunity for economic cooperation as an existential improvement. No one can predict if this will lead to developments that could put pressure on the regime. Kim Jong Il will certainly try to prevent this and will want to use the controlled opening up of the country to stabilize his power. His apparatus of control is still functioning."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"A statement of intention towards peace is clearly not peace -- and distant visions can sometimes be unproductive. One has to expect setbacks. And the two Koreas cannot conclude peace without the US and China. But this summit has opened a new chapter. Cooperation will be intensified on many levels, and lasting ties will be formed. It could even lay the groundwork for a Korean community. A sudden reunification would carry too many risks. It is, therefore, correct that Roh speaks about reconciliation and common prosperity."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The South Koreans have deliberately invested billions in the North in recent years … in the hope that this will help to create better living conditions for the people across the border. This approach is very controversial in the South. If the opposition wins in December elections, the money will not flow so generously. But the South Koreans know that the beggar king Kim needs it urgently -- also in order to become less dependent on China."

"The big increase in aid and investment that Kim and North Korea need will only come after an agreement with Washington. Bush is now prepared to reach a deal, unlike at the beginning of his presidency. … The latest accord is a small step in that direction. But like earlier agreements, this one can still easily be torpedoed by either side. Both Kim and Bush are playing for time, in the hope that the other gives in first. The path to peace in Korea will remain a rocky one."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 1 p.m. CET

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