Fifty years ago Sunday, negotiators from China, North Korea and the United States, representing the 22-nation United Nations Command, signed an armistice to end the three-year Korean War. The anniversary was marked with a solemn ceremony and the unveiling of a new postage stamp to honor all American soldiers.
Sunday's ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington included the performance of a traditional Korean dance aimed at comforting fallen souls.
Officials also unveiled a new U.S. postage stamp which carried the bleak image of American soldiers trudging through the snow of a Korean winter.
The armistice agreement signed 50 years ago ended the fighting in Korea, but technically didn't end the war. Speaking at the ceremony, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said this limbo has not hurt South Korea's development.
"Because we took a determined stand, because our men and women fought and sacrificed, the people of South Korea have had half a century of peace. Fifty years to build a dynamic democracy and a thriving economy, that is no stalemate," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
He said in contrast, North Korea is a land of comparative darkness, where a tyrant spends the country's meager resources on nuclear weapons while the people starve.
But he added that there is one issue on which Washington and Pyongyang are cooperating, identifying and recovering remains of U.S. soldiers in Korea. "We recently concluded negotiations that will result in two joint recovery operations this year. In November, we will meet with them to form plans for recovery operations in 2004. This is vital, because the Korean War will not really end for us until every American is brought home or accounted for," he said.
Five decades after the end of the conflict, the United States and North Korea are once again engaged in a dispute, this time over whether Pyongyang should be developing nuclear weapons.
State-run North Korean media said the country needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against what it sees as an imminent attack from the United States, which has labeled the country part of an "axis of evil." Pyongyang points to recent U.S. military offensives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Washington's decision to re-configure its troop deployment in South Korea, as evidence of its argument.
On the ABC television program This Week, the Commander of U.S. troops in South Korea, General Leon LaPorte, called North Korea a credible conventional military threat. But he countered that American troops are ready, if necessary. "From a military standpoint, there's the capability, always, to attack targets and to destroy targets. The challenge in North Korea is that many of their facilities are underground," General LaPorte said.
General LaPorte dismissed reports that reassigning the 37,000 American troops in South Korea indicated either a weakening of U.S. military commitment there or an imminent attack on North Korea.
Instead, he said, the redeployment is simply meant to take advantage of changing technologies and new capabilities.