North Korea indicates it could give up nuclear weapons as historic border summit with South announced

Kim Jong-un has agreed to a freeze on all nuclear and missile tests in event of talks with US, says Seoul

Adam Withnall@adamwithnall
Tuesday 06 March 2018 12:29
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North Korea indicates it could give up nuclear weapons, according to the South

North and South Korea have agreed to hold summit talks at the border between the two countries next month, according to officials in Seoul.

South Korea's presidential office said the nations had agreed to set up a telephone hotline between their leaders, who will meet for the first time at the summit in a tense border village in late April.

Chung Eui-yong, the South's presidential national security director, said Pyongyang had also made it clear it would not need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against the country were resolved and it received a credible security guarantee.

And in another significant development, Kim Jong-un has agreed to a freeze on all nuclear and missile tests in the event of any talks with the US, South Korea said. Donald Trump has previously said he is willing to talk with the North Korean leader, describing him in an upbeat speech at the end of last week as a "fine man". But the two sides have previously reached an impasse on whether denuclearisation would be a prerequisite for diplomatic progress.

Donald Trump hailed "possible progress being made in talks with North Korea", and welcomed the "serious effort" from both sides. He nonetheless added a note of caution, saying: "May be false hope, but the US is ready to go hard in either direction!"

The announcement came hours after a 10-person strong South Korean delegation led by Mr Chung returned from a visit to the North, where they met North Korean leaders including Mr Kim.

The reports from the South were corroborated by articles in the official North Korean news agency KCNA. It reported that "after being told about President Moon Jae-in's intention for a summit... the Supreme Leader (Mr Kim) exchanged views and reached a satisfactory agreement".

​KCNA said Mr Kim held "openhearted talks with the South side's special envoy delegation over... actively improving the North-South relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula".

The summit in late April will be only the third-ever since a war between the two Koreas ended in stalemate and without a formal peace treaty in 1953.

The two past summits, in 2000 and 2007, were held between Mr Kim's father - Kim Jong-il - and two different liberal South Korean presidents.

Those talks resulted in a number of cooperative projects that were eventually scrapped after conservative administrations took over in the South.

The South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, won that country's election in May last year after campaigning on a message of new talks with the North. Earlier this year, he said he wanted to be remembered as the leader "who built a peaceful relationship between the North and South".

Mr Chung's visit to the North was the most senior in more than a decade. During those talks, Mr Kim seemed to relish a role he rarely gets to take - that of a magnanimous statesman welcoming an important international delegation.

Kim's rite of passage

He has been in power for six years, but Kim Jong-un has yet to complete one of the defining rituals of a world leader - hosting another head of state, or being welcomed by one abroad.

The progress in inter-Korean diplomacy in recent weeks, sparked by the North's presence at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, raises the prospect of that changing.

North Korea's state-run media made a point of portraying him on Monday as a confident statesman, holding court over a lavish dinner, beaming with satisfaction during group photos and congratulating South Korea for successfully staging the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

That's quite a dramatic departure from the predominant images of 2017 — Kim surrounded by his generals celebrating their latest missile launch.

Make no mistake — Kim is sticking to his nuclear weapons and arsenal of missiles capable of reaching the US mainland. He has said repeatedly that he has no intention of giving them up or of using them as a bargaining chip to improve ties with Seoul, Washington or anybody else.

But both of Kim's predecessors travelled outside North Korea's borders during their tenures — Kim Il Sung famously visited the Soviet Union and most of eastern Europe by train in 1984. Kim Jong Un himself has been abroad, having attended school as a boy in Switzerland, and rumours have come up from time to time that he would visit either Beijing or Moscow.

If nothing else, it appears Kim does have an aircraft ready for the task.

Kim's younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, flew to the South for the Olympics on an aircraft believed to be Kim Jong Un's personal jet, which was decked out to resemble the kind of plane other national leaders use for state trips. The optics seemed designed to suggest Kim, like any other political leader, could be ready to hop on a flight if the opportunity arose.

Analysis by Eric Talmadge

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