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De-escalation With North Korea, Escalation With Iran 

De-escalation With North Korea, Escalation With Iran 

Photo by DAVID HOLT | CC BY 2.0

As a journalist, I have always dreaded reporting on meetings between world leaders billed as “historic” or “momentous” or just plain “significant”. Such pretensions are usually phoney or, even if something of interest really does happen, its importance is exaggerated or oversimplified.

But plus ca change is not always a safe slogan for the cautious reporter, because real change does occasionally take place and professional cynics are caught on the hop.

Watching the “historic” meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea at the Panmunjom border crossing this weekend – and listening to reporters bubbling over with excitement – it was difficult not to be captured by the enthusiastic mood.

But I recall similar meetings that were once billed as transforming the world for the better and are now largely forgotten. How many people remember the Reykjavik summit between Reagan and Gorbachev in 1986, which once seemed so important? Then there was the famous handshake on the lawn of the White House between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat confirming a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 that, whatever else happened, did not produce peace.

Rabin was assassinated two years later by a religious fanatic and Arafat died with his hopes for Palestinian self-determination in ruins. Sceptics who had argued that disparity in political and military strength between Israel and the Palestinians was too great for a real accord turned out to be right.

The meeting in Panmunjom feels as if it has got more substance, primarily because the balance of power between the two sides is more even: Kim has nuclear weapons and claims to have a ballistic missile which could reach the US. Their range and reliability may be exaggerated but nobody wants to find out the hard way.

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