Though the Korean nuclear issue is far from resolved, a number of developments point to a lessening of tension on the peninsula.

North-South military talks closed on May 11 with an agreement by both sides to implement joint fishing “on the principle of ensuring peace in the West Sea and promoting prosperity and interests common to the nation,” according to North Korea’s Central News Agency. The area had become a hot spot recently, as the North believed that South Korean ships had illegally entered its waters. In 1999 and 2002, military skirmishes broke out in those waters, also known as the Yellow Sea.

Both sides also agreed to provide safe test runs for rail links between North Korea and South Korea. The rail line was agreed to seven years ago, but has been stalled, mired in details.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said, May 15, that the test run was “a big stride” for peace, progress and development on the Korean Peninsula. He called it a launch point for an “inter-Korean economic union.”

The first trains were scheduled to cross the Demilitarized Zone (the heavily-fortified area between the North and South) on May 17.

Another, more personal, series of North-South meetings took place May 9-14. About 200 families separated since the Korean War held a reunion at Mount Kumgang in the North. The South Korean Red Cross held a reunion reception for the families at the Kumgang resort, opened in recent years as a tourist area for both North and South Koreans.

In other news, prospects for the implementation of the six-party agreements made in February appear good, despite a rocky start.

The agreement stated that the United States would release $25 million it had ordered frozen in North Korean accounts at Banco Delta Asia in Macao, while North Korea agreed to stop activity at its Yongbyon nuclear power plant by April 14. The U.S. said it gave the order to unfreeze the account, yet red tape has held up the transfer of funds.

North Korea, in response, said it would not shut down Yongbyon until it receives its $25 million. North Korea says it is still committed to the agreement, and the U.S. has agreed to give the country the time it needs.

dmargolis @pww.org

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