North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has also agreed to refrain from conducting nuclear and missile tests while engaging in dialogue with South Korea, Seoul’s national security chief Chung Eui-yong said after returning from talks with Kim.
Chung said Pyongyang expressed willingness to talk to the United States “in an open-ended dialogue to discuss the issue of denuclearization and to normalize relations with North Korea.”
- South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim will meet for a summit at the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas in April, Chung said
- The two sides will open a hotline so the leaders could communicate directly with each other, according to Chung.
- US President Donald Trump weighed in on the developments on Twitter, saying “the world is watching and waiting!”
The Trump administration has often said it’s willing to negotiate with North Korea if it puts denuclearization on the table.
Chung will head to the United States later this week to brief his American counterparts on his meeting in Pyongyang, a spokesman for Moon’s office said.
A win for Moon
The announcement represents a significant diplomatic accomplishment for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who used the Winter Olympic Games to engineer a thaw in relations with the North that had previously seemed a distant prospect following a string of North Korean weapons tests and rhetoric from US President Donald Trump and Kim.
Moon, who was elected last year after his conservative predecessor was ousted in a corruption scandal, has been proponent of dialogue and engagement with North Korea since his days as a presidential aide to the former President Roh Moo-hyun.
The April summit will take place at Panmunjom Peace House on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone that divides the two countries, according to Chung.
The last inter-Korean summit was in 2007, when South Korean President Roh met Kim’s father, late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
‘Something to work with’
Though surprising, the statements from North Korea aren’t a complete u-turn. Pyongyang has long maintained its development of nuclear weapons is a response to what it calls the US “hostile policy” toward the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the country is officially known.
“To some extent, this is a reiteration of something the North Koreans have said, that Kim Jong Un has said. But context and timing matters, and this opens up the opportunity for more diplomacy,” said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Relations in Seoul.
Duyeon Kim, a senior research fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, told CNN it was now up to negotiators to seize on the opportunity presented by the summit and potential talks with the US.
“Pyongyang’s intention to denuclearize and refrain from testing during talks simply reiterates its longstanding position in principle, (they) are conditional statements and dubious, but saying them publicly nevertheless give Washington and Seoul something to work with. That’s where good negotiations come in,” she said in an email.
The US and South Korea had postponed joint military exercises, which Pyongyang views as hostile, during the Winter Olympics but the drills had been expected to resume after the Paralympics end later this month. It’s not clear whether Tuesday’s developments will alter that.
During his Tuesday meeting, Kim told the South Korean delegation he “understands” Seoul’s position on the drills.
“Our stance on the joint military drills is that it is hard to postpone the exercises again or suspend them and there is no justification for doing so. But Kim said that he understands the South’s stance,” an official in President Moon’s administration said.