After more than 40 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, statement, North Korea expressed ‘regret’ that two South Korean soldiers were maimed in recent land mine blasts 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 over loudspeakers on the border, which will let the authoritarian North trumpet to its people a propaganda win over its bitter rival, and silence the broadcasts that outside analysts say could demoralise front-line troops and inspire them to defect.
The agreement represents 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 began the propaganda broadcasts in retaliation. But, as always on the Korean Peninsula, it’s unclear how long the good mood will continue.
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.