SEOUL (Reuters) - Leaders of the two Koreas agreed on Thursday to try to bring peace to the Cold War’s last frontier, just a day after the North signed up to an international deal to disable its nuclear facilities.
But some analysts said the pledges at only the second summit between North and South Korea were limited, with the hermit North clearly reluctant to break much new ground.
“North and South Korea shared the view they must end the current armistice and build a permanent peace regime,” President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said in a joint statement at the end of their three-day meeting in Pyongyang.
They will push for talks next month with China and the United States to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which technically is still going on because a peace treaty has yet to be signed.
If Beijing and Washington did agree, it would mark an end at last to the Cold War in the region but the United States has already made clear that one condition would be for Pyongyang to give up all nuclear weapons — something the North shows no sign of being in a hurry to do.
The two leaders also agreed to set up the first regular freight train service for half a century, linking two countries divided by a heavily fortified border.
There will also be meetings of ministers and defense officials and the establishment of a cooperation zone around a contested sea border on the west of the Korean peninsula.
The summit ended just a day after North Korea agreed to disable the three main nuclear facilities at its Yongbyon site — and a source of material for atomic weapons — and provide a full declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of the year.
U.S. President George W. Bush was quick to praise the nuclear deal with North Korea, a country he once linked with Iran and pre-invasion Iraq as members of an “axis of evil”.
He even held up North Korea as a possible model for resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran.
Roh left Pyongyang, where thousands lined the streets waving plastic flowers and cheering “hurray” as his motorcade headed to the South.
Roh went to the summit declaring it would make the peninsula safer and help the North’s shattered economy, but many analysts were doubtful he would be able to win concessions from the reclusive Kim.
And even Roh said he found it difficult to break down a wall of mistrust from Kim whom analysts say fears that opening up his secretive state too much to foreign influence could undermine the personality cult around his rule and threaten his own position.
“I expected much stronger results such as large-scale aid or support for North Korea. The results are more moderate than I had expected,” said Kim Young-yoon, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
“South Korea very aggressively proposed many projects and businesses but on the other hand North Korea seems to have been passive and not willing to accept all of them.”
South Korean officials say relations can improve only gradually and that a collapse of the North would be so catastrophic for wealthy South Korea that they were prepared to pump billions of dollars into their neighbor’s economy.
“This is an event that will open a new horizon between North and South Korea,” presidential spokesman Kim Jeong-suob told reporters in Seoul.
Wednesday’s agreement to disable the Yongbyon complex came a year after North Korea tested a nuclear device, earning it international sanctions that analysts say have hit hard.
The deal essentially puts North Korea back to where it was over a decade ago — as Kim Jong-il was taking over from his father as the North’s autocratic ruler — when it agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for aid.
But it is full of ambiguity and key issues still to be clarified include a suspected uranium enrichment program which could be another way to make fissile material for atomic weapons.
Also unclear, is how much fissile material the North has already stashed away — some experts say enough for several warheads.
A number of analysts have said it will take an extremely high price for paranoid North Korea to agree to completely give up nuclear weapons it sees as about the only leverage it has to deal with a hostile world.
And many point to Kim’s record of not sticking to agreements.
But the greatest prize it seeks, they say, is normal relations with the United States, which would bring an end to its pariah status as a state that sponsors terrorism and a chance to tap directly into the global economy.
This time the aid has already started to trickle in, with the United States the next country scheduled sometime this month to send in 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, or its equivalent.
If North Korea keeps its word, the agreement will eventually give the energy-starved country around 1 million tons of oil.
“A virtuous circle,” said South Korea’s Prime Minister Han Duck-soo of the combination of the summit and a nuclear deal.
Additional reporting by Jack Kim, Jessica Kim and Jon Herskovitz in Seoul and Chris Buckley in Beijing