North Korea’s Kim heads to DMZ for historic summit with Moon
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un headed for the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Friday for a historic summit with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in in the strip of land that divides the two countries, Pyongyang’s state media reported.
The meeting on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom – only the third of its kind since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War – will be the highest-level encounter yet in a whirlwind of nuclear diplomacy, and is intended to pave the way for a much-anticipated encounter between Kim and United States President Donald Trump.
In the most detailed direct reference to the process by the North so far, the official KCNA news agency said Kim would “open-heartedly discuss… all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula”.
Moon will greet Kim at the concrete blocks that mark the border between the two Koreas in the DMZ to begin the rare occasion laden with symbolism.
And when Kim steps over the line he will become the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended 65 years ago.
North Korea’s nuclear arsenal will be high on the agenda at the talks.
Last year, Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear blast, by far its most powerful to date, and launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.
Its actions sent tensions soaring as Kim and Trump traded personal insults and threats of war.
Moon seized on the South’s Winter Olympics as an opportunity to broker dialogue between them, and has said his meeting with Kim will serve to set up the summit between Pyongyang and Washington.
Trump has demanded the North give up its weapons, and Washington is pressing for it to do so in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible way.
But Seoul played down expectations on Thursday, saying North Korea’s technological advances with its nuclear and missile programs meant any deal would be “fundamentally different in nature from denuclearization agreements in 1990s and early 2000s”.
“That’s what makes this summit all the more difficult,” the chief of the South’s presidential secretariat Im Jong-seok told reporters.
Peace and denuclearization
Pyongyang is demanding as yet unspecified security guarantees to discuss its arsenal.
When Kim visited North Korea’s key backer Beijing last month in only his first foreign trip as leader, China’s official Xinhua news agency cited him saying that the issue could be resolved, as long as Seoul and Washington take “progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace”.
In the past, North Korean support for denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula” has been code for the removal of US troops from the South and the end of its nuclear umbrella over its security ally – prospects unthinkable in Washington.
“The big issues we know are peace and denuclearization,” Yonsei University professor John Delury told AFP.
The two Koreas “can do a lot more on peace than on denuclearization”, he said but the post-summit statement will give “a lot of chance to analyze every word, reading between the lines, look for things that are there and not there”.
Pyongyang announced last week a moratorium on nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missiles, adding it would dismantle its Punggye-ri nuclear proving ground.
But it also said it had completed the development of its weapons and had no need for further tests.
Seoul has also promoted the idea of opening talks towards a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, when hostilities stopped with a ceasefire, leaving the neighbors technically in a state of conflict.
Reunions of families left divided by the war could also be discussed at the summit, and Moon has told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe he will raise the emotive subject of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea. /kga
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