South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il recently held direct talks for the first time in seven years. In a joint declaration, South Korea and North Korea "agreed not to antagonize each other, to reduce disputes through dialogue and negotiation."
Mr. Roh and Mr. Kim pledged to seek talks with the other directly related parties to bring a formal end to the Korean War, which concluded with an armistice in 1953. Both countries also agreed on economic projects intended to spur reform inside the North Korea and forge closer ties between the two countries.
South Korea pledged to help the impoverished North build its infrastructure. Since the end of the war, South Korea has become an economic powerhouse. Its G.D.P. for 2006 was over one-trillion dollars, compared to North Korea's G.D.P. of nearly twenty-three billion dollars. South Korea plans to build a new highway and new freight train service to the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea. The complex has been operating since 2004 and is a joint economic zone created by the South and North Korean governments. Korea will also build a special economic zone in Haeju, a port town in North Korea. The two countries will also establish joint fishing areas in the Yellow Sea.
The summit came on the heels of progress in the Six-Party talks on denuclearization among North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States. In an October 3 agreement, North Korea agreed to disable all existing nuclear facilities and declare all of its nuclear programs. In exchange, it will receive aid, trade, and eventual integration in the international community.
During the inter-Korean summit, South Korea linked improved bilateral relations with further progress in implementing the Six-Party accord, says U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack:
"On the South Korean side, they made it very clear to North Korea that the ability to move forward in their relationship depended, in large part, on progress with the Six-Party Talk mechanism."
The Six-Party Talks, said Mr. McCormack, are the best means for resolving the longstanding problems between North and South Korea.