SEOUL: The leaders of North and South Korea will hold a historic summit in the Demilitarised Zone next month after Pyongyang expressed willingness to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees, Seoul said on Tuesday.
The North is open to “frank” talks with the United States on denuclearisation and would suspend missile and nuclear tests while dialogue was under way, the South’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said after returning from a meeting in Pyongyang with leader Kim Jong Un. US President Donald Trump gave a cautious welcome to the announcement.
“Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea,” Trump tweeted.
“For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned.” “The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the US is ready to go hard in either direction!”
North Korea is subject to multiple rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its atomic and ballistic missile programmes, and has long insisted that its “treasured sword” is not up for negotiation. But it is willing to abandon the programmes if its national security — and that of its leadership — is guaranteed, Chung said.
That remains a high threshold — Pyongyang has considered itself at risk of invasion by the United States since the Korean War ended in a ceasefire in 1953, leaving the two technically still at war. But Chung said Kim is willing to discuss denuclearisation in talks with Washington, which could be the crucial concession needed to enable a dialogue.
Washington has long insisted Pyongyang take concrete steps towards denuclearisation as a precondition.
Tuesday’s developments are the latest steps in a rapid Olympics-driven rapprochement on the peninsula. They follow a year of high tensions during which Pyongyang carried out its most powerful nuclear test to date, along with multiple missile launches, including rockets capable of reaching the US mainland.
Kim and Trump traded personal insults and threats of war, sending fears of conflict spiralling. But the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South triggered an apparent transformation, with Kim sending his sister to the opening ceremony, sparking a flurry of cross-border trips as South Korean President Moon Jae-in tries to broker talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
North and South agreed to hold a summit in late April in Panmunjom, the truce village in the DMZ, Chung said after leading the most senior delegation to travel North for more than a decade.
It will be the third meeting between the leaders of North and South, but the first to take place in the DMZ after summits in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007.
The North “made clear that there is no reason to own nuclear (weapons) if military threats towards the North are cleared and the safety of its regime is guaranteed”, Chung said.
Pyongyang “expressed willingness to have frank dialogue with the US to discuss the denuclearisation issue and to normalise North-US relations,” he added, and said there would be no provocations such as nuclear or ballistic missile tests while dialogue was under way.
“Also, the North promised not to use atomic weapons or conventional weapons towards the South,” he told reporters, adding that Seoul and Pyongyang would set up a hotline between the leaders.
Kim also said he would “understand” if the South goes ahead with delayed joint military exercises with the US that usually infuriate Pyongyang, a senior official at the South’s presidential office added.
The envoys’ visit produced “a very important breakthrough”, said Cheong Seong Chang of Sejong Institute think tank, calling the results “an important first step towards stably managing the North’s nuclear and missile threats, preventing war on the Korean peninsula and building political and military trust”.
He cautioned that the definition of “military threats” the North wanted to see removed was “up for interpretation”, but said he believed Washington and Pyongyang “would soon begin serious dialogue”.
Previous negotiations have ultimately foundered, however. Six-party talks, grouping the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the US, and offering the North security and economic benefits in exchange for denuclearisation, broke down almost a decade ago.
North Korean state media pictures of the delegation’s extended meeting with Kim in Pyongyang showed the North’s leader in a jovial mood, smiling and shaking hands enthusiastically.
“Hearing the intention of President Moon Jae-In for a summit from the special envoy of the south side, he exchanged views and made a satisfactory agreement,” the North’s official news agency KCNA said earlier.
Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers Party, devoted its entire front page to the visit.
The trip came after the North’s leader sent his sister to the Winter Games and invited Moon to a summit in Pyongyang.
Kim Yo Jong’s trip was the first to the South by a member of the North’s ruling dynasty since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
At the time Moon had not accepted the invitation to a summit, saying the “right conditions” were needed.
The South’s envoys will travel to Washington on Wednesday to brief US officials on their discussions in Pyongyang.
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2018