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Koreas agree on easing tensions at talks

Rivals North and South Korea agreed Friday on measures to ease tensions along the Cold War’s last frontier, including a hot line, according to a joint statement released after all-night negotiations.
/ Source: The Associated Press

North and South Korea agreed Friday to stop propaganda broadcasts along their border and take steps to avoid high-seas clashes, but they made no moves to reduce troops arrayed on a frontier bristling with arms a half-century after war devastated their peninsula.

The agreement, announced in a joint statement after all-night talks, also made no mention of another of the toughest issues for the two sides: the international dispute over the communist North’s development of nuclear weapons.

The two Koreas have yet to sign a peace treaty to formally end their 1950-53 war, and the agreements Friday were part of steps in the past two weeks to ease their tense Cold War-era standoff. Military generals from the two sides met face-to-face for the first time last week.

Generals agreed Friday to adopt a standard radio frequency and signaling system for their navies to avoid confusion that could lead to clashes at sea and to exchange data on illegal fishing. They also decided to set up a telephone hot line.

The two sides will end propaganda efforts along their border by mid-August, the joint statement said. Loudspeaker broadcasts will stop, and signboards will be dismantled.

“Both sides have agreed to jointly make efforts in order to ease military tensions and achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said.

In a sign of how much mistrust remains, the negotiators avoided talk of the North’s missile arsenal or possible troop pullbacks. The tank traps, gun emplacements and minefields remain in place, and there is no sign of an imminent political solution to their conflict.

The talks came amid suspicion that North Korea has several nuclear bombs and is trying to produce more. The two Koreas, the United States, Russia, China and Japan are hoping to meet before month’s end to discuss how to end the North’s nuclear development, perhaps in exchange for giving economic or energy aid to the impoverished country and providing it with security guarantees.

The six nations have held two previous rounds of nuclear talks in Beijing. North Korea often accuses the United States — which has a large troop contingent in South Korea — of plotting an invasion. The North, which has a poorly equipped but massive army, has said the U.S. war in Iraq and ensuing occupation prove the need for what it describes as a nuclear “deterrent.”

Washington says that it has no intention of invading North Korea and that Pyongyang should stop nuclear activity in line with its international commitments.

Rare meeting
The military talks in South Korea marked only the second time generals from the former battlefield foes have negotiated. The first meeting occurred last week in North Korea, when both sides agreed to discuss ways of preventing naval clashes along their poorly marked western sea border.

Both North and South want to avoid deadly naval firefights during the May-June crab-catching season, when fishing boats from the two countries jostle for position along the maritime border off the west coast. Navy boats from the two sides fought in 1999 and 2002.

North and South Korea often accuse each other of violating the western maritime border. The South recognizes a border demarcated by the United Nations after the end of the Korean War, but the North claims a boundary farther south.

The latest negotiations, held at the South’s scenic Sorak Mountain, began Thursday morning and were scheduled for only one day, but they dragged on into the night. The North Korean delegation headed home early Friday morning.

The two militaries seldom hold talks, although their governments have expanded economic and political exchanges in recent years. Their defense ministers met in September 2000.

Also this week, delegations from the two countries met in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, to discuss inter-Korean investment and trade. South Korea is pushing North Korea to open cross-border transport links and is funding the construction of an industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.