Peace at Last for Two Koreas?

A three-day summit between the leaders of North and South Korea ended with promised words of mutual cooperation and easing military tensions.

In a joint declaration, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il pledged to bring peace by "cooperating closely to end military hostility and guarantee easing of tension and peace on the Korean peninsular."

North Korea has made similar pledges in the past but analysts are skeptical, saying they have often ignored these agreements when it suits them. "You could say this is a road map, saying you want peace in the Korean peninsula is nothing new, but making it concrete would take several months, years, if not decades," said Lee Jung-Min, professor of International Relations at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Both sides will hold defense ministers' talks in Pyongyang next month to discuss military confidence-building measures.

The agreement also called for a meeting on the Korean peninsula of a "three or four party summit of directly related sides" to "terminate the existing armistice regime" and "to pursue issues related to declaring the end of the Korean War." The 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War was signed by North Korea, China and the U.S.-led United Nations Command forces, but not by South Korea.

This means that technically the two Koreas are still at war.

President Bush said last month he is willing to discuss a formal end to the Korean War but only if Pyongyang continues to abide by its total nuclear disarmament.

North Korea on Wednesday has followed suit by announcing it will disable its main nuclear facilities by Dec. 31.

"Chairman Kim asked me to follow up with the idea of moving from an armistice to a peace treaty after I explained that President Bush is interested in a peace treaty," said Roh in an address to the nation after returning to the South.

Significant but not earth-shattering, the 10-point article is a win-win result for both leaders facing trouble at home. South Korea's lame-duck president Roh, whose term ends in just four months, has tried to dramatize this summit to boost his single-digit popularity rate.

The North's reclusive leader Kim hopes that this agreement could encourage the international community to provide his country with much needed economic assistance. It has been a bad year for North Korea, which has endured a dire famine and the worst flood damage in 40 years that destroyed more than 11 percent of the North's crops this year.

Analysts in Seoul say Roh saved face by including phrases in the agreement that specify the North's intentions to resolve military hostility.

Previously North Korea has insisted on dealing only with the United States as the primary counterpart in signing a peace treaty, sidelining South Korea. "Pyongyang is now saying, we are in this together and both North and South Korea will take charge from now on," said Baek Seung-Joo, a senior researcher at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

As for the North, more promises of South Korean money injections were stated in the agreement as expected. The two will build a special zone in the west sea border with a common fishery area and open regular cargo railway service along restored tracks crossing the Demilitarized Zone.

South Koreans will also be able to use a direct flight between Seoul and Mount Paektu, Korea's tallest peak at the North Korea-China border. South Korean tourists have been forced to detour through China to visit the popular peak which Korean myth maintains is where the Korean race was born.

All joint projects between the North and South have been paid for by Seoul in the past, often including cash payments to license the rights.

The reclusive leader Kim also took advantage of the public appearance to sweep aside recent rumors over his ailing health.

"They report as if I have diabetes and even heart disease, but that's not true at all," said Kim at the farewell luncheon for Roh in Pyongyang. "They seem like fictional writers, not reporters." As the audience burst into laughter at this, Kim replied, "But since (South Korean) reporters report big about me, I don't feel that bad."