The two Koreas came to an agreement on Tuesday to bring a military standoff that had pushed the peninsula into a dangerous state of tension.
After more than two days of talks, North Korea made on official statement expressing regret over the injuries to South Korean soldiers who were hurt in a land mine explosion near the DMZ, and South Korea agreed to stop its anti-Pyongyang propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts.
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Perhaps most importantly, isolated North Korea said they would end the “semi” state of war it declared last week. The joint statement also noted that the bitter enemies agreed to continue with follow-up talks on a number of issues in an effort to improve their diplomatic relationship.
North Korea has continued to deny laying the landmines in the South Korean side of the DMZ, and analysts note that the statement by the isolated state still did not explicitly take responsibility for the mines.
Statements from South Korea
In a press conference Tuesday morning, Kim Kwan-jin, national security adviser to South Korean president Park Geun-hye, noted: “It is very meaningful that from this meeting North Korea apologised for the landmine provocation and promised to work to prevent the recurrence of such events and ease tensions,”
South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok also commented that both sides would begin military withdrawals at noon local time. That is also the time the loudspeaker broadcasts will end and North Korea’s state of war status will be removed.
South Korean Park Geun-hye released a statement saying: “What’s important now is to carry forward specific projects agreed by South and North smoothly through follow-up talks so as to ease tensions between South and North.”
Statement from Korea expert
“They both made compromises. South Korea did not get an apology, they got a statement of regret about the injury, which they can spin as an apology,” said Korea expert John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul.
He continued to note: “The more important point is maintaining this channel and reopening the relationship. This is hardly going to be easy to implement, but it’s a landmark agreement which lays out a path.”
More on South Korean standoff with North Korea
Of note, as a part of the deal, the two Koreas will work to set up reunions of families separated by the Korean War both immediately and in the future.
This episode in the ongoing North Korean charade began almost three weeks ago when a landmine planted in the South Korean side of the DMZ seriously wounded two soldiers.
Seoul soon started to blast anti-Pyongyang propaganda from giant loudspeakers along the border, a step it had not taken in more than a decade.
A crisis was narrowly averted late last week when North Korea lobbed four artillery shells across the border. The South responded with a barrage of artillery, but no one was hurt in the exchange of fire.
North Korea then issued an ultimatum that the South stop the broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or they would attack. Late Thursday, both sides agreed to negotiations.
However, once the talks had started, the North brought up hundreds of artillery pieces to the border, and at least 50 submarines left their bases, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. Both South Korea and the U.S. also increased their military alert status.
The defense ministry also noted many of the North’s submarines had already returned to base.
Both the U.S. and the UN said the agreement was a positive development. “We’re going to judge the North by its actions,” U.S. state department spokesman John Kirby said in a presser Tuesday. “It was a very tense several days.”