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(News Focus) Breakthrough deal with N. Korea 'triumph' for S. Korea's firmness: U.S. experts

2015/08/25 06:16

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- The crisis-defusing deal between South and North Korea is a victory for Seoul as its firmness in the face of North Korea's war threats forced the communist nation to seek a negotiated end to the crisis, U.S. experts said Monday.

"This agreement is a triumph of ROK (South Korea) leadership, determination, persistence, force of arms, and diplomacy," said Evans Revere, senior director at the Albright Stonebridge Group. "It is everything that I had hoped might be achieved, and more."

   After days of marathon negotiations, the two Koreas announced a landmark agreement that centered on the South halting anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts in exchange for the North expressing regret over the injuries South Korean soldiers sustained from the explosion of landmines planted by the North.

Though the expression of regret is only an indirect admission of responsibility for the landmine attack, it is still seen as a concession from Pyongyang, which has a track record of never taking any responsibility for provocations.

Under the deal, the two sides also agreed to hold more government-to-government talks to move inter-Korean relations forward, organize a round of separate family reunions around Chuseok -- a major fall holiday in both Koreas -- and seek greater civilian exchanges between the two sides.

The agreement capped tensions that had been spiraling since the two sides exchanged artillery fire across their heavily armed border last week, which sparked fears the tensions could escalate out of control and lead to larger military clashes.

"On reflection, I think it is clear that the North seriously miscalculated in carrying out the original provocation and in firing on the ROK. Pyongyang may have assumed that the ROK would not retaliate against the North and that they could somehow intimidate the ROK into turning off the speakers," Revere said.

"The North failed and was compelled to come to the negotiating table in order to discuss terms," he said.

The former State Department official said that South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her government "deserve applause" not only for their firmness in dealing with North Korean threats, but also for their willingness to come to the negotiating table.

He also said that the alliance with the U.S. was critically important in sending messages to North Korea.

"South Korea's willingness to respond militarily when attacked may have established a new paradigm in ROK-DPRK relations, in which the North will now have to think very carefully about testing or challenging the ROK's determination in the future," he said.

Richard Bush, a senior researcher at Brookings Institution, also said it's a victory for Seoul.

"I believe that the bottom line is that North Korea backed down. Seoul employed its diplomatic and military assets in a firm and measured way but did not overreact. In addition, there was probably good coordination between the ROK and the US on the proper response," he said.

The North had "very few cards" and reconfirmed its "reputation of recklessness," Bush said.

The expert also cautioned against putting too much expectation on the North carrying out its commitments on family reunions and political talks.

Ken Gause, a senior analyst on Korea at CNA Corp., said he believes the agreement was what the North had originally wanted from the outset, reiterating his view that the North used provocations to break the stalemate in inter-Korean relations.

"This was about strategic equities and establishing a relationship with Seoul, not going to war. In addition, North Korea got the ROK to cease the loudspeaker broadcasts, something it can declare victory on," he said.

Gause also said that the North could walk away from carrying out other parts of agreement, such as family reunions, "if they determine that these engagement activities will not secure" the international aid it is looking for.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the agreement will be a "Rorschach test" for interpreting as either the beginning of a long awaited breakthrough in inter-Korean relations or yet another temporary defusing of confrontation.

"While the risk of an immediate inadvertent military clash has receded, the underlying causes remain in place and the tense status quo remains," he said.