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Experts Offer Modest Praise for Korean Summit Outcome


Reaction is mixed, but generally positive in South Korea, about the cooperation pact signed at the summit with North Korea. But as VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, regional experts question whether the ideas on paper can be implemented on the ground.

South Korean news media were positive overall toward the summit declaration by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Seoul's Joongang Daily newspaper said the declaration "contains unprecedented contents," and represents "a first step to removing the fundamental basis of insecurity on the Korean peninsula." The Hankyoreh daily newspaper says the declaration is "more comprehensive and specific than originally expected."

North and South Korea are technically at war. Three years of fighting were halted by a 1953 armistice after the North invaded the South. The cooperation pact, signed Thursday in Pyongyang, calls for efforts to replace the armistice with a permanent peace arrangement.

The document for the first time commits Kim Jong Il personally to diplomatic efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. The pact pledges the North's cooperation in implementing agreements to dismantle all nuclear facilities.

Dan Pinkston is the northeast Asia analyst in Seoul for the research organization International Crisis Group. He says implementing the agreement will be a challenge - but he praises the two countries for creating conditions for dialogue.

"Process matters in Asia," he said. "So... there's more weight on that than in the actual results in the legalistic or contractual sense. There's the view that if you maintain a good relationship you will obtain those results naturally."

The agreement commits South Korea to a long list of economic projects, mainly related to rebuilding the impoverished North's broken-down infrastructure. It also calls for the establishment of joint industrial, fishing, and agriculture zones, all funded by South Korea.

Kim Taewoo, senior researcher at Seoul's Korea Institute of Defense Analyses, says the deal is imbalanced.

Kim praises the deal as a very rare occasion for Korean reconciliation. However, he says while South Korea has made a long list of concrete promises, it is unclear what specific actions North Korea has committed to take.

The pact does not mention Pyongyang's dismal human rights situation, or the issue of hundreds of South Korean prisoners of war and abductees believed to be held by North Korea. President Roh does not bring up such issues to avoid angering North Korea, which says it holds no one against their will and commits no rights abuses.

Groups representing North Korean defectors and the families of abductees say they are not surprised, but disappointed just the same.

There is an additional challenge in implementing Thursday's deal: Roh Moo-hyun's presidency expires in two months and he is constitutionally barred from running for re-election.

Polls indicate he is likely to be replaced by a member of South Korea's conservative opposition party - which generally believes North-South agreements need to require more from Pyongyang. Many opposition politicians think that Mr. Roh's policy of engaging North Korea has cost South Korea a lot of money, yet did not prevent Pyongyang from building nuclear weapons.

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