© 2024 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

At Border Meeting, Leaders Pledge An End To Korean War


The leaders of the two Koreas did a sort of diplomatic dance this morning. You can see it on video. North Korea's Kim Jong Un walked up to a concrete curb which was the borderline between the two countries. He reached across and shook hands with South Korea's Moon Jae-in on the far side. Then Kim stepped across to the South. They held hands and stepped over to the North, and then back again. You can try this at home. So what about the announcements after the minuet? NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Seoul to talk that through. Hi there, Anthony.


INSKEEP: How much excitement is there where you are?

KUHN: It's being seen in a very different light. And principally, it's a domestic thing here. There is some very emotive language used by Kim Jong Un. He said, you know, one people, one blood, one nation. It was highly emotional and highly theatrical. And that focus is a little bit different from the international community, which is much more focused on the denuclearization issue.

INSKEEP: Yeah. We're thinking about nuclear weapons. They're thinking about a divided nation. And would you help me understand what's going on there? Because we should remind people that these two countries have been at war formally since the 1950s, even though most of the shooting stopped then. And yet there are statements that suggest that they have now agreed to end the war. The president, President Trump, has even tweeted, Korean War to end. What have they actually said and agreed to?

KUHN: OK. Well, first there was a written statement, and then they were verbal statements issued by North and South Korean presidents. The written statement says that the two Koreas will actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime. In 1953, an armistice was signed. It was not a permanent peace agreement. And that agreement was signed between the U.S., the U.N., China and North Korea. South Korea was not in on it. So just because South Korea is saying this now, the U.S. has to be in on it at the very least, if not other countries. And so they're talking about a complete ratcheting down of military tensions, demilitarizing of the border. It's a sweeping statement of ambition.

INSKEEP: I've got to just note you said they will actively cooperate. So this is something they're promising to get around to in the future, not something they've actually agreed on and done.

KUHN: That's right. It's not done yet. Of course, the crucial thing here is denuclearization. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said there is no daylight between them, there is no different interpretation, and when they say complete denuclearization, that's what they both mean. And really, the written statement leaves no room for wiggle on that. But, you know, it's interesting that Kim Jong Un did not even mention denuclearization in his remarks. And previously he's just said that we'll stop testing and we'll shut down our only test site. No concrete measures, no time frame for any of this denuclearization. So I think skeptics are still going to be worried.

INSKEEP: Well, we have heard from one of those skeptics on the program today, Anthony. Danny Russell, former U.S. diplomat, senior diplomat. He's been advising the South Koreans. He listened to all these statements this morning and raised the suspicion that North Korea is trying to make a bunch of nice gestures in order to distract from the fact that they don't want to give up their nuclear weapons. Are people that skeptical in South Korea, where you are?

KUHN: Yeah. Well, it's happened before. They said they're going to denuclearize, and then they totally do an about face. People believe the basic logic of it. Many of them believe the basic logic says that they just cannot give up these weapons. That includes a lot of defectors who come from the North and believe this is all a con game, they're just playing for time and they're going to hang onto their existing arsenal at the end of the day.

INSKEEP: OK. Dramatic day, unanswered questions. NPR's Anthony Kuhn, thanks very much.

KUHN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.