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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2010

Handle with care

NEW developments in North Korea and South Korea make the countries even harder to understand than usual. Relations between them remain a moving tableau.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak stated recently that "reunification will happen." He said his country must prepare for that, and he even proposed a unification tax to help meet its financial costs. Mr. Lee's remarks were interesting, even visionary. At the same time, though, South Korea and the United States are holding military exercises in the region. These exercises are calculated to warn North Korea against taking provocative actions.

North Korea is accused of - and denies - sinking a South Korean military vessel last March. But if the idea is to ease North Korea toward reunification, military exercises do not seem the way to achieve that goal.

A succession process appears to be occurring in North Korea, with ailing leader Kim Jong Il yielding power to his son, Kim Jong Eun, or someone else yet unknown. Optimistic observers hope Pyongyang's next leader will be ready to play ball with a president in Seoul who favors reunification. But a North Korea in turmoil as it changes leaders remains dangerous.

Two points emerge: First, the Koreans remain one people. Second, both parts of a divided Korea are armed and dangerous. The first point could become the solution to the second.

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