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Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Friday, 5 October 2007 16:12 UK

Could peace break out in Koreas?

By John Sudworth
BBC News, Seoul

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il celebrate the joint declaration in Pyongyang - 04/10/07
The peace deal made no mention of North Korea's nuclear arms
The imagery and symbolism were striking.

Two leaders, from opposite sides of the Cold War's final frontier, clasping hands and raising their arms like a couple of prize-fighters.

The agreement signed by President Roh Moo-hyun and the north's Chairman Kim Jong-il is a pledge to bring decades of mistrust and confrontation to an end.

But it is an odd kind of peace deal that makes scant mention of the fact that one of the parties is sitting on a stockpile of nuclear weapons.

And despite the smiles and handshakes peace has not officially broken out just yet.

It lays a foundation to end the Cold War and establish a peace regime
Professor Koh Yu-hwan
Dongguk University, Seoul

The agreement contains only a commitment to work towards a formal end to the Korean War.

Turning the 1953 ceasefire into a full peace treaty will require the signatures of the other parties to that conflict, namely the USA and China.

Nonetheless, as a statement of intent, the summit agreement that Mr Roh carried home to Seoul is receiving a qualified welcome.

North Koreans wave at the motorcade of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun
The two countries pledged to create a "joint cheering squad"

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, said the agreement marked a big shift in relations between the old enemies.

"It lays a foundation to end the Cold War and establish a peace regime," he said.

But many are unhappy the South Korean president did not use the summit as a chance to push North Korea on its human rights record.

Mr Kim maintains totalitarian control of his people and the regime is accused of running political prison camps and engaging in torture and forced labour.

The strategy in Seoul, however, is to win concessions and encourage reform through engagement with Pyongyang (the North Korean capital), the so-called "sunshine policy".

So is this summit a sign that it is working?

'Cheering squad'

The agreement pledges the two Koreas to boost economic ties, open a regular cargo railway service and create a joint fishing zone.

The document even suggests setting up a north and south "joint cheering squad" which will travel to the Beijing Olympics onboard a special train.

Professor Eun Mee Kim, from the Department of International Relations at Ewha Womans University, believes the pledge to increase bilateral exchanges between the countries is significant.

THE TWO KOREAS
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspect the guard of honour in Pyongyang
1910: Korean Peninsula colonised by Japan
1945: Divided into US-backed South and Soviet-backed North
1950-1953: Korean War, no peace deal signed
1987: North Korea bombs a South airliner, killing 115
1990s: South Korea introduces conciliatory Sunshine Policy
2000: Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung hold first leaders' summit
2007: Kim Jong-il and Roh Moo-hyun hold second leaders' summit

"They are talking about exchanges and co-operation in language, in culture, history, science and technology," she told me.

"None of these things has been mentioned before."

But the Grand National Party, South Korea's main conservative opposition, claims the summit was simply a ploy ahead of a December presidential election.

"It didn't take any substantial measures or show a firm commitment to nuclear dismantlement and peace on the Korean peninsula," said a party spokesman.

There are many voices cautioning against an over-optimistic assessment of North Korea's willingness to change.

This week, as the result of international negotiations, it was announced that the regime had agreed to disable its main nuclear reactor by the end of the year in exchange for a large amount of aid.

This is the facility that is thought to have produced the material for North Korea's nuclear test last October.

Mushrooms

Although a significant step, it still leaves Pyongyang with the plutonium it has already reprocessed, estimated to be enough to arm up to a dozen warheads.

As desperate as he may be for aid for his seriously troubled economy, many doubt whether Mr Kim is really willing to completely negotiate away his nuclear threat.

So the real test of this week's summit agreement will be in the implementation.

And while he ponders his success in bringing home at least something that seems to offer hope, the South Korean president has something else to chew on.

As a summit gift, the leader of the destitute north gave his guest four tonnes of prized pine mushrooms worth up to $2.6m (1.27m).

video and audio news
The two leaders shake hands on a deal



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