Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Koreas to hold summit next month

AFP, SEOUL

A handout photograph from the South Korean Blue House taken on Monday shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center right, shaking hands with South Korean National Security Director Chung Eui-yong in Pyongyang.

Photo: AFP

North and South Korea have agreed to hold a summit next month at their heavily armed border, with Pyongyang saying it would consider abandoning nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees, Seoul said yesterday.

If confirmed by Pyongyang, the offer would mark the first time under the current leadership the North had declared itself willing to discuss conditions under which it might consider giving up its nuclear arsenal — a move it has previously insisted was firmly off the negotiating table.

Following a meeting in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, South Korean National Security Director Chung Eui-yong said that the North had stated there was “no reason” to hold on to its nuclear weapons “if military threats toward the North are cleared and the security of its regime is guaranteed.”

Chung said Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in would meet late next month at the fortified border village of Panmunjom for what would be only the third inter-Korean summit since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

He said the two sides would establish a leader-to-leader hotline, offering the highest-level contact between two nations that are still technically at war.

After months of soaring tensions that have seen Kim trade insults and threats with US President Donald Trump, temperatures cooled dramatically as South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics.

Despite having few athletes competing at the Games, Pyongyang sent a large and colorful delegation, which included Kim’s sister, who met with Moon to offer a summit meeting.

That visit was returned this week, when Moon sent the highest-level delegation in a decade north of the border.

The envoys returned yesterday with news of apparent breakthroughs in the long-logjammed relationship.

“The South and the North agreed to hold the third summit at ... Panmunjom in late April,” Chung said.

The previous two summits were held in 2000 and 2007, under former South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun who both advocated dialogue with Pyongyang. They both met with Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.

The two Koreas also agreed to open a communication hotline between Moon and Kim Jong-un to “defuse military tension and to have close coordination,” Chung said yesterday.

The leaders are to have their first telephone conversation before the planned summit, he added.

North Korea also pledged that it would freeze its nuclear and missile testing program during the period of dialogue.

However, analysts cautioned that North Korea has a history of using negotiations to buy time for its weapons program.

The Kim dynasty has over the years raised the prospect of abandoning its nuclear weapons program if the US gave up its hostile policies, although serious negotiations have not taken place since six-party talks broke down in 2009.

“It’s progress — certainly more than most would have expected — but it’s still rhetorical,” said Robert Kelly, an associate professor of political science at South Korea’s Pusan National University.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

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