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Relations Thaw, But Questions Remain on Denuclearization Goals After Korea Summit

Analysts on Friday welcomed a joint agreement by the leaders of North and South Korea to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, but said the wording of the pledge remains vague and warned that achieving a result that satisfies both parties, and the U.S., will require a significant amount of political will.

Kim Jong Un became the first leader of North Korea to cross the demilitarized zone separating his country from the South on Friday, when he met for talks with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in at the South-administered side of the Panmunjom truce village straddling the border.

The two heads of long-time adversary nations exchanged pleasantries and ate an opulent meal together during the carefully choreographed day-long summit, which culminated in the signing of a joint statement declaring their “common goal” to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Kim had recently announced that North Korea no longer needs to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles and will close its main nuclear testing site, and said it would instead focus on rebuilding the country’s economy, which has stagnated under international sanctions leveled in response to the tests.

The North Korean dictator has also said that he is willing to negotiate with the U.S. on giving up his country’s nuclear arms, while South Korean officials say and he and Moon have been in discussions along with the U.S. to bring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

But questions have arisen over what the North might concede in exchange for an end to sanctions and guarantees of peace, particularly since Pyongyang has previously vowed to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons, only to renege on its promises despite receiving massive amounts of aid from the South.

Experts told RFA’s Korean Service that Friday’s summit signified a breakthrough in relations between the two Koreas, which had been on edge amid Pyongyang’s rash of weapons tests that ended late last year, but they acknowledged that the talks provided little in the way of what concrete steps might be taken to deal with the nuclear issue.

Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said that further negotiations and the “implementation of key steps” on a peace treaty and denuclearization are needed to ensure Friday’s talks result in substantive change.

“It will take a great deal of political will to follow through on these steps,” Kimball said, adding that North Korea should commit to fully ending its tests by signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty—a multilateral treaty that bans all nuclear explosions, for both civilian and military purposes.

“There are difficult turns in the roads that will come up, and both sides need to continue forward and not drive off of the road and into the ditch,” he added.

Definition and time frame

David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, agreed that “a firm foundation and plan” for the North’s complete verified irreversible nuclear disarmament should be agreed upon, adding that a timetable of two to three years should be in place.

“[Otherwise] most of the other commitments in the declaration are merely wishes,” he said.

Albright said that the summit appears to have laid the foundation for a summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, which has been tentatively agreed to and could come as early as next month, though a time and place for the meeting is yet to be determined … (read more)


Reported by RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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