Rival Koreas Repeatedly Retreat From Tipping Point

Rival Koreas Repeatedly Retreat From Tipping Point

The Associated Press

In their most recent showdown, the two Koreas once again proved their mastery at pulling back from the brink — this time with an accord forged in marathon negotiating sessions.

Authoritarian North Korea had previously refused to even admit to, let alone apologize for, Seoul’s accusation that North Korean land mines maimed two South Koreans. After a vague North Korean expression of “regret,” South Korea agreed to stop its anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts, and the rivals found a way to save face.

Here’s a look at how they’ve pulled off similar feats over the years:

  • ••

December 2010: North Korea backs off from an earlier threat of “catastrophic retaliation” after South Korea defiantly goes ahead with live-fire drills near the country’s disputed western sea boundary.

This standoff is the result of similar drills by Seoul a month earlier that drew a North Korean artillery bombardment that killed two marines and two civilians on a front-line South Korean border island.

North Korea saves face by asserting that it didn’t respond to the second drill because South Korea conducted it in a less provocative way.

  • ••

May 2010: North Korea threatens “all-out counterattacks” after Seoul moves to resume psychological warfare operations to punish the North over an alleged torpedo attack that killed 46 South Korean Sailors earlier in the year.

Although South Korea restores the loudspeakers now being used to pipe propaganda over the border, it does not follow through on its vow to turn them on.

North Korea makes conciliatory gestures, including hosting reunions of families separated by the Korean War. Foreign analysts say it is an attempt to improve ties with the outside world and stimulate a flow of much-needed aid.

  • ••

Early 2000s: In what has been called the “second North Korean nuclear crisis,” animosity soars after Washington says the North, after being confronted in 2002 by a U.S. envoy, admits privately that it has a secret nuclear fuel program, a violation of an earlier nuclear accord.

North Korea denies this and, already angry at being lumped earlier by U.S. President George W. Bush into an “Axis of Evil,” says in early 2003 that it has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Tensions mount precipitously before Seoul and Washington turn to diplomacy in summer 2003.

  • ••

1992-1994: The “first North Korean nuclear crisis” includes North Korean threats to withdraw from the NPT and Washington’s exploration of possible airstrikes amid U.S. government estimates that the North is pursuing large-scale nuclear bomb-fuel production.

There’s also the North’s 1994 threat, for the first time, to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.” Many South Koreans at the time rushed to supermarkets to stock up on provisions.

Eventually, with the help of a 1994 trip to Pyongyang by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, negotiators reach an agreement to cap the North’s atomic efforts in return for aid.

  • ••

1968: A team of 31 North Korean commandos slips undetected across the border and comes within striking distance of the Seoul palace of South Korean President Park Chung-hee, father of current President Park Geun-hye. After a last-minute stand by South Korean security forces repels the assault, the only captured agent says he came to “slit the throat of Park Chung-hee.”

Despite this drama, the rival Koreas eventually sign a major accord in 1972 to work toward peaceful reunification.

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