North Korea said it will permanently abolish its key missile facilities in the presence of foreign experts, the latest gesture by leader Kim Jong-un to revive faltering talks with Washington over his country’s nuclear program, Reuters reports.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Pyongyang on Wednesday, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in said they agreed to turn the Korean peninsula into a “land of peace without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats”.
North Korea is also willing to close its main nuclear complex if the United States took unspecified “reciprocal action”, they added.
The pledges Kim and Moon made at their third summit this year could inject fresh momentum into the stalled nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang and lay the groundwork for another meeting Kim recently proposed to US President Donald Trump.
Kim pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” during his two meetings with Moon earlier this year and at his historic June summit with Trump in Singapore.
But discussions over how to implement the vague commitments have since faltered. Washington is demanding concrete action towards denuclearization before agreeing to key goals of Pyongyang – declaring an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War and easing tough international sanctions.
Trump called the latest pledges “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,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Kim said he will visit Seoul in the near future, in what would be the first-ever visit to the South’s capital by a North Korean leader. Moon said the visit was expected to take place by the end of the year.
The latest pledges by Kim come days before Moon meets with Trump in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week. Seoul officials hope Moon will be able to convince Trump to restart nuclear talks with Pyongyang, after he canceled a trip by his secretary of state to Pyongyang last month, citing lack of progress.
Though North Korea has unilaterally stopped nuclear and missile tests, it did not allow international inspections for a dismantlement of its only known nuclear test site in May, drawing criticism that its action was for show and could be easily reversed.
As a next step, North Korea will allow experts from “concerned countries” to watch the closure of its missile engine testing site and launch pad in the northwestern town of Dongchang-ri, according to a joint statement signed by Moon and Kim. The facilities were a key test center for its intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the US.
The North also “expressed its readiness” to take additional measures, such as a permanent dismantlement of its main nuclear facilities in Yongbyon should there be unspecified corresponding action from Washington.
Those US steps could include an end-of-war declaration, South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters.
North Korea has consistently refused to give up its nuclear arsenal unilaterally, and stressed that a formal declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War should come first.
“I don’t think President Moon got everything he was seeking, but Kim gave Moon some tangible things for which he can take credit and some forward progress in terms of beginning a more substantive discussion and increased activity focused on denuclearization,” said Michael Madden, an analyst at the Stimson Centre’s 38 North in Washington.
Satellite images and other evidence in recent months have suggested North Korea is continuing to work on its nuclear program clandestinely.
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