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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit the South Korean capital “in the near future” and will take tentative steps to close a missile and testing site, ROK President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday.
In a joint statement following the signing of a new inter-Korean agreement, the South Korean President said the two sides had agreed to “remove all danger” of war on the peninsula.
The North Korean leader, he continued, would conduct an “unprecedented” visit to South Korea soon, and would close the Tongchang-ri engine test ground and missile test pad.
Reports earlier in the year suggested that Pyongyang had already taken steps to dismantle that facility – also known as the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
A joint statement issued following Wednesday’s talks said the facility would be closed “on a preferential basis with the observance of experts from concerned countries.”
Its dismantlement was also reported to have been part of an agreement signed by U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore in June.
“South and North agreed to make the Korean peninsula a base for peace where nuclear weapons and threats don’t exist, and take substantive progress swiftly to this end,” it reads.
“The South and North agree to closely cooperate in the process of pushing forward the complete denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.”
The North will also take steps towards “the permanent dismantlement of Yongbyon nuclear facilities,” it continued, but only “if the U.S. take corresponding actions based on the spirit of the North Korea-U.S. joint statement of June 12.”
North Korea previously demolished a cooling tower at the Yongbyon complex in 2008, as part of an effort to show goodwill amid improving U.S.-DPRK ties.
One expert described the agreement as “interesting,” but with several “potential pitfalls in the offer.”
“This does not address all their mobile missile launchers or their SLBM program,” said Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer in international relations at Troy University.
“And by allowing international observers in, it runs the risk of the international community acquiescing and accepting their ballistic missiles,” he continued. “If they are serious about denuclearizing, then they will not need the ballistic missiles as delivery systems.”
Moon has also invited the North Korean leader to Seoul, Wednesday’s statement continued, and Kim plans to make the trip “at an early date.”
Speaking at the news conference, President Moon reaffirmed that Kim Jong Un will travel to South Korea in the near future, saying Kim will fly to Seoul within the year unless “special circumstances” arise.
“Chairman Kim’s visit to Seoul will be the first-ever by the North’s Supreme Leader, and a groundbreaking turning point,” Moon said.
Should the visit go ahead, it will be the first by a DPRK leader to the South since the end of the Korean War.
The two Koreas also on Wednesday agreed to a swathe of new measures related to inter-Korean engagement and the reduction of military tensions.
South Korean Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo and Minister of the DPRK People’s Armed Forces No Kwang Chol signed a separate military agreement on the implementation of April’s Panmunjom Declaration.
The September Pyongyang Joint Declaration, as it’s been called, stipulates that Seoul and Pyongyang had agreed to “actively take practical measures to make the Korean peninsula a permanent peace zone.”
The two Koreas also plan to hold “round-the-clock communication and close consultation to prevent accidental armed conflicts” through the setting up of an “inter-Korean joint military committee.”
A groundbreaking ceremony linking railroads on the peninsula’s east and west coasts is set to take place within the year – reaffirming a promise made by President Moon during a speech in August.
“The South and North will more boost exchanges and cooperation on the basis of reciprocity, co-interest, and prosperity, and come up with substantive measures to develop the national economy,” the joint statement said.
Among these exchanges will be the restarting of joint inter-Korean cooperation at the Mt. Kumgang tourism resort and the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) “as soon as the conditions are established.”
Any restarting of work at the KIC would likely require an exemption from international sanctions.
Seoul and Pyongyang will also discuss the possibility of creating a common special economic zone on the peninsula’s western coast and special tourism zone on the eastern coast.
They also plan to “further strengthen humanitarian cooperation to fundamentally resolve the issue of separated families.”
This will involve the opening of a permanent reunion center at Mt. Kumgang “at the earliest possible date,” as well as facilitating regular phone calls and letter exchanges between divided families.
The two Koreas also plan to file a bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
U.S. President Donald Trump swiftly responded to the agreement on Twitter, praising Kim Jong Un’s decision to “allow Nuclear inspections, subject to final negotiations, and to permanently dismantle a test site and launch pad in the presence of international experts.”
“Also, North and South Korea will file a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics. Very exciting!” he said.
One expert described the agreement as “quite shallow, but still welcome.”
“It confirmed that the major reason for this summit was to create the right mood,” Andrei Lankov, director of the Korea Risk Group – which owns and operates NK News – said.
“Both sides are afraid that the U.S. at any moment might switch back to the policy of maximum pressure, which is highly risky,” he continued.
“It is in the South’s interest to create an impression that the North Koreans are wiling to denuclearize even if this has no relation to reality.”
Despite this, Lankov continued, new agreements on inter-Korean projects should be welcomed.
“We had references about restarting all cooperation projects,” he said. “This is good news, these projects make a lot of sense.”
Wednesday’s statement comes on the second day of what is expected to be a three-day inter-Korean summit in the North Korean capital, with the South Korean President expected to return to Seoul tomorrow.
Featured image: Pyeongyang Press Corps