SEOUL– This week’s defense minister-level meeting on Cheju Island is welcome news as the two Koreas take another historic step forward in their rapidly developing rapprochement. But the road ahead will be long and convoluted. According to one well-placed South Korean official, “we are in the realm of ambiguity” when it comes to structuring the peace process.
Even demining the Demilitarized Zone to clear a path for relinking the rail line between North and South raises jurisdictional questions that must be sorted out since the frontier falls within the control of the United Nations Command. Even though the 1991 Basic Agreement calls for military confidence-building measures, according to the 1953 armistice agreement, the Military Armistice Commission — recently redesignated as the “General Officers Talks” — is the only direct channel of communication between the two sides. In both bodies, a U.S. general officer is and was the senior official present on the U.N. Command side, while military representatives of North and South do not deal directly with each other, and never have.