North and South Korea continued their push for peace yesterday with high-level talks that resulted in a host of agreements, including a plan by the rivals for a groundbreaking ceremony this year on an ambitious project to connect their railways and roads.
The agreements come amid unease in Washington over the speed of inter-Korean engagement. Many outsiders believe that U.S.-led efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear-tipped missiles are lagging significantly behind the Koreas' efforts to move past decades of bitter rivalry. There was also controversy over a decision by South Korea's Unification Ministry to block a North Korean defector-turned-reporter from covering the talks at the border village of Panmunjom over concerns of angering North Korea. This drew a fierce reaction from other journalists, who accused the ministry of infringing media freedoms and discriminating against North Korea-born citizens.
A series of weapons tests by North Korea last year, and an exchange of insults and threats between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had many on the Korean Peninsula fearing war. But there has since been a surprising peace initiative, with three inter-Korean summits and a June meeting in Singapore between Trump and Kim. The U.S. and North Korea are working on plans for a second such summit.
Still, there is widespread skepticism that North Korea will disarm. And, despite the fanfare for the proposed railway and road projects, the Koreas cannot move much further along without the lifting of international sanctions against North Korea, which isn't likely to come before it takes firmer steps toward relinquishing its nuclear weapons and missiles.
The Koreas also agreed to use their newly opened liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong to host talks between sports officials in late October to discuss plans to send combined teams to the 2020 Summer Olympics and to make a push to co-host the 2032 Summer Games. And the two countries will hold Red Cross talks at North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort in November to set up video-conference meetings between aging relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and potentially expand face-to-face reunions between them.