Restoring calm on the DMZ Two Koreas: Crisis diminished amid signs of renewed cooperation.


ASIA will be a safer place if the rapprochement between North Korea and the West that tentatively appeared at the end of the old year is made more vigorous in the new.

In the last days of 1996, the crisis between obscurantist and desperately poor North Korea with prosperous but domestically preoccupied South Korea started to cool down. The heightened tension along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) was easing.

North Korea apologized for invading South Korea with a submarine. South Korea returned the ashes of 24 North Korean guerrillas who infiltrated by that submarine. The U.S. said it would reconsider sanctions in order to allow North Korea to get more food.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says it desperately needs more than two million tons of grain to avert starvation. The Cargill Corp. was standing by in Chicago for Treasury permission to start shipping the first half-million tons of grain. South Korean reports suggested that South Korean aid on building two nuclear reactors for North Korea might resume in January. North Korea agreed to join South Korea in a "briefing" to plan peace talks.

If all this holds up, the 1994 agreement by which North Korea pledged to get out of nuclear weapons development is back on track. North Korea's distress from two years of disastrous floods perhaps made it reasonable. Its insecurity and that of Kim Jong Il, supreme ruler in succession to his late father Kim Il Sung, had provoked the crisis.

In this context, it is disconcerting that the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, James Laney, has resigned and meant it, just when policies identified with him are bearing fruit.

With a new foreign policy team and a vacancy in the office of ambassador in effect to the two Koreas, the Clinton administration must stress continuity in creating stability in the Korean peninsula. The year ended with apparent quiet success, which needs to be strengthened.

Pub Date: 1/02/97

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