x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The urge to talk

North Korea is fond of repeating a threat to reduce Seoul to 'a sea of fire'. But if a volcano threatens to inflict a natural sea of fire, it appears it's time to talk.

There is nothing like an exploding volcano to concentrate the mind. Or to realise how puny are all our human conflicts.

North Korea and South Korea have been at each other's throats for 60 years, through a savage war and many periodic spikes of violence - the sinking of warships, the shelling of fishing towns, kidnappings, assassinations and airplane bombings. North Korea is fond of repeating a threat to reduce Seoul to "a sea of fire".

But if a volcano threatens to inflict a natural sea of fire, it's time to talk.

According to a recent BBC report, the two Koreas have held meetings at the South Korean border town of Munsan about setting up a joint research project into a volcano. Supposedly the birthplace of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Mount Paektu last erupted in 1903 and is believed to still have an active core. The Japanese earthquake on March 11 apparently made the North Koreans nervous.

So a delegation of 11 northerners met with four southern geologists. This led South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek to remark that the joint research project could develop into "a whole new level" of cross-border projects.

Mr Hyun may be optimistic, but it is nevertheless reassuring to see that North Korea isn't wholeheartedly behind the "sea of fire" strategy.