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Pacific News Minute: Historical Brinksmanship Between North and South Korea

mroach / Flickr
mroach / Flickr

Until an agreement yesterday, North and South Korea stood on the brink of war for the last several days. As usual, each accused the other of precipitating the crisis.  As a deadline approached at 5 PM Saturday, high level negotiators from both countries gathered at Panmunjom and after marathon talks, found a way to back down.  As we hear from Neal Conan in today's Pacific News Minute… this was just the latest in a long series of confrontations.

Maybe the single worst moment occurred in the city still known in October, 1983 as Rangoon.  A bomb exploded in the ceiling of a building where a large South Korean delegation awaited the arrival of President Chun Doo Hwan.  3 senior officials were among 17 South Koreans killed.  4 Burmese also died. President Chun only escaped because his car was held up in traffic.  Two of the culprits were captured, one confessed to being a North Korean military officer.

In this same period, North Korea abducted hundreds of people from South Korea, Japan, China, France and other countries, most notoriously a South Korean film star and her ex-husband director who were forced to make movies in North Korea, including a remake of Godzilla.

Two naval battles punctuated a generally more peaceful period that also included two summit meetings and an agreement on reconciliation and non-aggression.  Then in March 2010, a South Korean naval vessel was sunk by what an international panel determined to be a North Korean torpedo.  46 crewmen died and South Korea cut off all trade while North Korea abrogated the non-aggression pact.  That same year, 4 South Koreans died in an artillery attack on an island in disputed waters.

It remains to be seen if this week's agreement signifies a real change in relations that have been very poor these last few years, undermined in no small part by North Korea's repeated threats to use nuclear weapons.  

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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