SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong Un agreed to dismantle North Korea’s main nuclear complex if the United States reciprocates as part of a wide-ranging declaration that capped the third inter-Korean summit, with the leaders promising to try to steer the war-torn peninsula into an era of peace and prosperity.
The summit agreement expanded on the North’s previous vague promises to pursue the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but it remains to be seen if it would be enough to breathe new life into U.S.-North Korean negotiations.
Standing next to Kim at twin podiums, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in outlined specific measures he said the North was prepared to take, including the permanent closure of the main nuclear complex at Yongbyon and destroying a missile engine launch site in the presence of international inspectors.
“Today Chairman Kim has shown his commitment to denuclearization and we shared our willingness to create a peninsula that is peaceful and nuclear free,” Moon said.
Kim, whose family has ruled the communist state since it was founded in 1948, also said he would visit Seoul “in the near future.”
That would make him the first North Korean leader to step foot in the South Korean capital while in power.
He said he and Moon had “made a firm commitment to exert active efforts to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and nuclear threat and turn it into a land of peace.”
The longtime rivals also moved forward with improving bilateral relations, signing a separate military agreement aimed at easing tensions along the heavily fortified border that has divided the peninsula since the 1950-53 war ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
In addition, they agreed to work together to submit a joint bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics, which would build on the excitement from the North’s participation in this year’s Winter Games that were held in the South.
President Donald Trump welcomed the outcome, saying the North Korean leader had agreed to allow nuclear inspections, “subject to final negotiations.” The summit agreement only mentioned inspections for the missile site’s destruction, but it’s unclear what details may have discussed in two days of closed door talks.
“In the meantime there will be no Rocket or Nuclear testing,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets, adding that the North would continue returning remains of American war dead.
“Hero remains to continue being returned home to the United States. Also, North and South Korea will file a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics. Very exciting!” he said.
Kim Jong Un has agreed to allow Nuclear inspections, subject to final negotiations, and to permanently dismantle a test site and launch pad in the presence of international experts. In the meantime there will be no Rocket or Nuclear testing. Hero remains to continue being……..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2018
….returned home to the United States. Also, North and South Korea will file a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics. Very exciting!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2018
Experts said the measures, while far from the complete removal of the nuclear program that Washington seeks, were likely enough to keep the diplomatic process alive.
“This has really put the ball in the Trump administration’s court,” Alexandra Bell, of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said in an interview. “It’s very clear that President Moon and Chairman Kim are committed to moving forward no matter what.”
The Korean leaders pledged to “remove all dangers that could cause war on the peninsula,” during two days of talks in Pyongyang, Moon said.
The 65-year-old former human rights attorney has been thrust into the role of mediator as nuclear talks between the United States and the North have deadlocked over disarmament details.
Moon planned later Wednesday to attend the mass games, a highly synchronized show involving tens of thousands of performers. He also was expected to travel with Kim to a famous mountain range on Thursday before flying back to Seoul, presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan told reporters.
The summit agreement signed by the two leaders and released by Moon’s office included the promise to permanently close Yongbyon “if the United States takes corresponding measures.”
Devil in the details
It didn’t elaborate, but North Korea has been pressing for a former declaration to end the war as well as the lifting of punishing economic sanctions and security guarantees. The Trump administration has insisted it will maintain pressure on the communist state until a nuclear deal is reached.
Talks between Washington and Pyongyang, which peaked with an unprecedented summit between Kim and Trump on June 12 in Singapore, reportedly have deadlocked over U.S. demands that the North provide a detailed inventory of nuclear facilities and agree to a comprehensive inspection and verification regime.
Kim wants a phased approach that includes rewards for steps taken.
Trump canceled a planned trip by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang last month, citing insufficient progress in denuclearization efforts.
Moon will brief Trump on the summit and relay what was not publicly disclosed during a meeting on Sept. 24 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan told reporters.
Michael Fuchs, a former deputy assistant secretary for East Asian affairs, said a key question will be what the North Koreans are demanding in return for the denuclearization steps.
“I think that Moon got enough from Kim to keep the possibility of U.S.-North Korea talks alive for the time-being,” said Fuchs, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “It appears that Kim has put an offer on the table in terms of inspections and potentially closing Yongbyon, but we don’t yet know what the price is.”
Kim’s remarks were more general and focused on improving inter-Korean relations, including a promise to visit Seoul in the future. The leaders didn’t take questions.
“We have agreed to make the Korean Peninsula a land of peace that is free from nuclear weapons and a nuclear threat,” Kim said in remarks after the two men signed a summit agreement at the state guesthouse where the South Korean delegation is staying.
“The road to our future will not always be smooth and we may face unexpected challenges and trials,” he added. “But we want to bring an end to the division of the peninsula as soon as possible. We are on the journey to peace and prosperity.”
Moon and Kim spoke after signing the summit agreement while their defense chiefs signed the military agreement, which included plans to establish buffer zones precluding artillery maneuvers along the border and to prevent accidental clashes.
They also agreed to withdraw 11 guard posts from the Demilitarized Zone by December and to establish a no-fly zone above the Military Demarcation Line that will apply to planes, helicopters and drones.
The two sides also agreed to hold a groundbreaking ceremony by the end of the year for a project to link their railways as they seek to lay the foundation for greater economic cooperation, which is limited by U.S.-led sanctions.
Moon, who also met with Kim on April 27 and May 26, was the first South Korean president to travel to Pyongyang since 2007. The first inter-Korean summit also was held there in 2002.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrive at the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyeongyang, North Korea on Sept. 18, 2018.
PYEONGYANG PRESS CORPS