South Korea and its counterpart to the North will engage in military talks next week. The encounter will be the first between the two nations since November, when an artillery exchange resulted in the deaths of four South Koreans. The meeting will involve preliminary planning for further discussions of the North's provocative actions such as its nuclear program and the March sinking of a South Korean warship, reports Mark McDonald at the New York Times. That said, no one apart from the politicians issuing soundbytes sounds very optimistic.

  • 'A Good Opportunity,' South Korean President Lee Myung-bak calls the upcoming talks, according to the BBC, "[for North Korea] to show a change in its attitude." He is apparently signaling willingness to hold a summit with Kim Jong-il if all goes well. This separate summit would focus on denuclearizing the North, an important issue since, following North Korea's revealing of its uranium enrichment facility to an American scientist last year, the UN suspects the existence more such facilities aided by foreign experts.
  • A Bad Track Record for Compromise  This isn't the first time the two countries have attempted a summit, reports the Associated Press's Hyung-Jin Kim. They tried to organize one prior to the attacks of last March and November, "but failed to agree due to differences over the impoverished North's demand for food aid." North and South Korea have technically been at war since 1953, when a truce ended the Korean War, with only two summits between the countries' leaders in 2000 and 2007.
  • A Change of Heart? Not So Fast  At The Diplomat, Richard Weitz proposes a best-case scenario for the Korean Peninsula: "free of nuclear weapons, with a formal peace treaty and integrated into East Asian economic and diplomatic institutions." He laments that North Korea's actions over the past year have done little to move the two countries toward such a positive outcome, but the North's initiation of high-level talks with the South might be a good sign. He suggests China had an influence on Pyongyang's change of heart. China, not unlike Russia (below), wants to avoid "imposing substantial pressure on the Kim Jong-il regime for fear that it might collapse," Weitz writes. Still, he suggests China was prompted to pressure North Korea to change course after US officials told those Chinese visiting Washington with Hu Jintao that East Asia would see more US military forces if North Korea refused to stop nuclear developments. He doubts the North Korean thawing will prove permanent. "But who knows?" Weitz suggests, "Perhaps having earlier displayed his ability to act as provocatively as his father, Kim Jong-il could confound expectations once again and try to demonstrate Kim Jong-un’s negotiating skills as a peacemaker."
  • Russia's Influence May Be Helping  Weitz offers additional analysis at World Politics Review, where he is a senior editor. Russia, he reports, is focused on quelling provocations from both the North and the South-U.S. alliance and is adamant about resuming the Six-Party Talks between China, Japan, Russia, the U.S., North and South Korea--on hiatus since 2008. Weitz says Moscow's attempts to drive North Korea away from nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles have involved providing the country with economic and security assistance, avoiding harsh sanctions against the North for fear of causing its collapse. Russia's push for Korean peace will benefit the US and others, argues Weitz, but Korean's reunification could be a big problem for Moscow. "Surrounded by more powerful neighbors, the newly united Korean state would have incentives to request that American troops remain on its territory in the South and perhaps even move into former DPRK territory. And China, not Russia, would likely emerge as the long-term dominant player in the Korean economy."