North and South Korea agree to historic leaders’ summit in DMZ on April 27
Meeting between Kim Jong-un, leader of nuclear-armed North Korea, and the South’s President Moon Jae-in will be only the third of its kind
North and South Korea will hold their first summit in more than a decade on April 27, Seoul officials said on Thursday after Kim Jong-un pledged his commitment to denuclearisation during a surprise trip to Beijing.
South Korean officials, who announced the date after high-level talks with their Northern counterparts, said the summit agenda would largely be the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and an improvement of inter-Korean relations.
Thursday’s meeting was the first high-level dialogue between the Koreas since a Southern delegation earlier this month travelled to Pyongyang to meet the North’s leader Kim, where they agreed to hold the summit at the border truce village of Panmunjom.
The two sides said in a joint statement they would hold a working-level meeting on April 4 to discuss details of the summit, such as staffing support, security and news releases.
“We still have a fair number of issues to resolve on a working-level for preparations over the next month,” said Ri Son-gwon, chairman of North Korea’s committee for the peaceful reunification of the country.
“But if the two sides deeply understand the historic significance and meaning of this summit and give their all, we will be able to solve all problems swiftly and amicably.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang welcomed the summit date.
“As a neighbour of the Korean peninsula, China is willing to see the start of dialogue between South and North Korea to improve the relationship and push for peaceful cooperation,” he said. “We hope the momentum of dialogue and peaceful situation will continue.”
The summit confirmation comes just days after Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a surprise visit to Beijing – his first trip outside the isolated North since he came to power in 2011. During the trip, he pledged to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, according to Chinese state media, while Xi promised to uphold its friendship with the North.
Tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests surged last year, triggering a series of UN sanctions and raising fears of a US military response to Kim’s plan to develop a weapons capable of hitting American soil. But tensions have eased since North Korea sent athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.
In his talks with Xi, Kim may have discussed economic cooperation or requested a softening of enforcement of sanctions.
Top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi, who is currently visiting the South and is expected to meet President Moon Jae-in on Friday, said Kim’s Beijing visit should help ease tension and lead to the denuclearisation of the peninsula.
“We believe his visit will help the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, ensure peace and security of the Korean peninsula and resolve problems regarding the peninsula through political negotiations and discussions,” he said during a meeting with South Korea’s National Security Office head, Chung Eui-yong.
Kim is also expected to meet US President Donald Trump some time in May to discuss denuclearisation, although a time and place have not been set for that summit. Washington and Seoul have said Kim previously told officials that he was willing to put his nukes up for negotiation in his talks with Trump.
But there is deep scepticism among some analysts that the North, after years of dogged weapons development, would commit to real denuclearisation and then agree to a robust verification regime. North Korea over the past two decades has been repeatedly accused of using disarmament talks as a way to ease outside pressure and win badly needed aid, while all along secretly pushing ahead with its weapons development.
The North Korean leader’s engagement with the international community has also sparked speculation that he may try to meet other leaders. Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono has left open the possibility that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might meet Kim at some point.
In setting up separate talks with Beijing, Seoul, Washington, and potentially with Moscow and Tokyo, North Korea may be moving to disrupt a united front among its negotiating counterparts. Analysts have said by reintroducing China as a major player, North Korea also gains leverage against South Korea and the United States.
Additional reporting by Associated Press