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Dagyum Ji and Oliver Hotham
Dagyum Ji is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul. Oliver Hotham is Managing Editor of NK News.
The leaders of the two Koreas on Friday agreed they would take steps to end the armistice agreement between the two countries and sign a peace treaty, a move representing a symbolic end to close to 70 years of hostilities.
In a joint statement released following the third inter-Korean summit, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea said they would seek to bring a formal end to the conflict this year.
“South and North Korea will actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” the statement – titled the “Panmunjom Declaration for the Peace, Prosperity, and Unification of the Korean Peninsula” – reads.
“Bringing an end to the current unnatural state of armistice and establishing a robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is a historical mission that must not be delayed any further.”
Officials from the South Korean government last week said that Seoul would seek to establish a “peace regime” on the peninsula in today’s talks between the two leaders.
The two Koreas have agreed to purse three-party and four-party meetings with the U.S. and China “with a view to declaring an end to the War” this year – which will see the 65th anniversary of the armistice agreement.
President Moon Jae-in has also agreed to visit Pyongyang in October.
The statement also commits the two Koreas to non-aggression, and will see them cease “all hostile acts” against the other from May 1.
This will include the use of propaganda loudspeakers and the spreading of leaflets in the Military Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which will be made “into a peace zone.”
Peace zones will also be established on the northern limit of the Yellow Sea (known in Korea as the West Sea) – which has been the sight of some of the worst skirmishes between the two Koreas – and Seoul and Pyongyang have pledged to take “practical scheme” to prevent skirmishes and ensure safe fishing activities.
The two Koreas also plan to organize regular meetings of their respective defense ministers, and are committing to disarmament “as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building.”
Notably, the agreement sees the two Koreas commit to “the common goal” of a nuclear-free peninsula through “complete denuclearization.”
It also states that recent steps by Pyongyang “are very meaningful and crucial for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Kim Jong Un in March told South Korean officials in Pyongyang that he was willing to consider denuclearization in exchange for security guaranteed.
He reportedly reiterated this pledge at a meeting later that month with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
The DPRK, however, has been yet to confirm on paper that it is open to relinquishing its nuclear weapons.
It is not, however, the first time that Pyongyang had promised to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, with DPRK leaders having made similar commitments in 2007 and 2010.
“South and North Korea agreed to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the agreement adds.
On the humanitarian end, the two Koreas have, notably, agreed to establish a joint liaison office in Kaesong – the former site of a joint-run industrial complex – to facilitate close consultation between the two and to facilitate civilian exchanges.
Officials from Seoul and Pyongyang will be stationed at the office.
The two Koreas have also agreed to activate cooperation and exchanges in various fields to step up the atmosphere for reconciliation and unity, providing co-participation in an international sport event as one of the examples.
To achieve the “balanced economic growth and co-prosperity of the nation,” Seoul and Pyongyang will also push ahead with “practical steps” to connect and modernize the “railways and roads on the eastern transportation corridor as well as between Seoul and Sinuiju for their utilization.”
Seoul and Pyongyang will hold a reunion event for families divided by the Korean War on August 15: Korea’s Liberation Day.
The DPRK previously maintained the reunions cannot happen without the repatriation of several female restaurant workers involved in a mass-defection in April 2016 and North Korean defector Kim Ryon Hui to the North – a demand Seoul has refused.
The statement comes following a day of talks between the leaders of the two Koreas – the third such meeting in history.
It also represented the first time a North Korean leader has entered South Korean territory since the end of the Korean War.
Its release was followed by a joint conference by Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in – the first of its kind in Korean history.
Speaking first, the South Korean President said he would seek to hold regular meetings with the North Korean leader.
“Chairman Kim Jong Un and I will have a regular meeting and a frequent consultation through the hotline based on a firm belief in peace and prosperity,” Moon said.
A hotline connected to North Korea’s State Affairs Commission to the oval office of the South Korean President was established earlier in the month.
“We will never go back,” Moon said. “We made a bold step towards achieving peace of both South and North Korea, co-prosperity and peace, our nation’s aspiration, with chairman Kim Jong Un.”
Moon said the two leaders had affirmed that there would be no more war on the Korean peninsula and that an “era of peace” had begun.
“We are standing here as we believe that we can eventually overcome [previous conflict] in spite of the pain and sorrow of the division which has been maintained for a long time,” Moon said.
“Chairman Kim Jong Un and I confirmed the common goal is to realize a nuclear-free Korean peninsula through the complete denuclearization,” he said, adding the North’s measures for nuclear freeze had a “very significant meaning.”
“It will be the beginning of the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
Moon said he clarified that Seoul and Pyongyang would “closely cooperate” to achieve that goal.
“I express my respect to the courage and determination of Chairman Kim which created the situation today and consent to the bold agreement,” Moon said.
“Due to Kim’s bold resolution, we can give a nice gift to South and North Koreans and to the world.”
The North Korean leader, in turn, said the leaders “shared a firm willingness to open a new era in which the entire nation enjoys prosperity and happiness on peaceful territory without war.”
The two Koreas, he said, would endeavor not to “repeat the disgraceful history of the previous North-South agreement which only made the beginning,” and to “make good results by closely communicating and communicating.”
He said the two Koreas could enjoy prosperity as one Korea “if entire people of North and South Korea freely come and go through the path I’ve traveled and if Panmunjom… becomes the symbol of peace.”
“If you push forward to the end while believing in the firm will, the door once closed will open widely,” the DPRK leader said. “There may be draft, headwind, frustration, and hardship on the path.”
The two leaders will now hold a joint banquet on the Southern side of Panmunjom.
Friday’s historic summit comes as something of a precursor, however, to a planned meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, which is set to take place in late May or early June.
One expert told NK News that there were reasons to be optimistic about Friday’s agreement.
“What’s been so hard is sustained, strong political will,” said John Delury, a professor of history at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Right now, we have very strong political will… a good constellation of political will, assuming that the Trump-Kim summit goes off well.”
“This stuff is not going to be solved overnight,” he added. “This problem is 70 years in the making so it’s going to take up some time to make serious progress.”
Featured image: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps