North Korea has agreed to permanently dismantle engine testing facilities and missile launch pads in the presence of international inspectors and to move towards the decommissioning of a major nuclear enrichment site.
The announcement followed two days of talks between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, who arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday for a high-stakes summit intended to salvage nuclear diplomacy negotiations between North Korea and the US, which have stalled in recent weeks.
Kim also promised to “visit Seoul in the near future”, which would be the first visit by any North Korean leader.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday morning, North Korea expressed its “willingness to continue taking additional steps in accordance with the June 12 North Korea-US Joint Declaration, such as permanent dismantlement of its Yongbyon nuclear facilities.”
The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre is a major complex about 100km north of Pyongyang and its permanent closure would be a significant move towards ensuring that Kim gives up his nuclear arsenal.
However, in a joint press conference following their talks, President Moon clarified that steps to close it down would be conditional on reciprocal, unspecified, measures from the US, effectively putting the ball in Washington’s court.
The pledge to dismantle engine testing facilities and missile launch pads refers to the Dongchang-ri site in northwest North Korea.
The tentative olive branch comes amid an ongoing impasse between Pyongyang and Washington over the speed of denuclearisation. The US wants to see rapid, concrete steps on disarmament from Pyongyang, while the North Koreans are pushing for more assurances over security first.
There was no mention in the declaration either of a key US demand that North Korea disclose a full inventory of its nuclear assets, or of Pyongyang’s request that the US agree to a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53.
With neither side willing to blink first, Mr Moon has stepped into the role of mediator in a concerted bid to prevent the breakdown of a fragile diplomatic détente that started to take shape early this year and led to a historic summit between Kim and Donald Trump, the US president, in Singapore.
The US administration has not formally responded to the latest developments. However, President Trump, who may meet with Kim for a second summit in the near future, tweeted that the summit’s outcome was “very exciting!”
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
“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,” he told his 54.5m followers shortly after midnight on Tuesday in Washington.
“In the meantime there will be no Rocket or Nuclear testing. 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!”
In his own statement to the press, Mr Moon said that he and Kim had committed themselves to a creating “a nuclear-free peninsula” and to remove "all threats” that could trigger war.
Their joint agreement specified measures including a joint military committee, the halt of border drills and the withdrawal of 11 border guard posts by the end of the year, in order reduce the risk of military escalation.
It also outlined plans to reconnect a cross-border railway, to allow letter exchanges and video calls between citizens, and to seek to obtain the rights to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
Kim made no explicit mention of new steps towards denuclearisation, speaking only in general terms of his commitment to “make the Korean Peninsula a land of peace that is free from nuclear weapons and nuclear threat.”
The remainder of Mr Moon’s trip is expected to be largely focussed on cultural and symbolic activities designed to project an image of cross-border friendship.
Accompanied by his wife, Kim Jung-sook, and a delegation of more than 100 senior business executives and celebrities, he will visit the Mansudae art gallery and dine at the Taedonggang fish restaurant before heading to the “Mass Games”, an ostentatious choreographed gymnastic display in Pyongyang’s main stadium.
Mr Moon and Mr Kim will also make a surprise visit to Mount Paektu, on the border with China – a site which is considered sacred by North Koreans.
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His trip has lived up to high expectations of pomp, ceremony and the overt displays of warm body language that were seen between the two leaders at their initial meeting in the border village of Panmunjom in April.
At a dinner held in his honour on Tuesday night, Mr Moon described the moment he and Kim stepped over the border together hand-in-hand as symbolising “two affectionate lovers.”
Additional reporting: Junho Lee