North Korea has agreed to pause all testing of nuclear weapons amid plans for talks with South Korea and the U.S. A South Korean delegate met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Pyongyang on Tuesday. South Korea’s national security chief made the groundbreaking announcement after the 10-person delegate returned from that meeting, according to multiple media reports.
The North and South have agreed to hold a summit in a village located along their shared border late next month. Additionally, Seoul said that the two nations have agreed to establish a hotline so that their leaders can easily communicate with each other via telephone. According to South Korean national security director Chung Eui-yong, North Korea emphasized that it wouldn’t need its nuclear weapons if the military threats are taken care of. Pyongyang also wants a guarantee of security.
KCNA, which is the official news agency of North Korea, corroborates the announcement from Seoul. The news outlet reports that Kim and the South Korean delegate held “openhearted talks” about “improving the North-South relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
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Next month’s meeting is set to be held on the South’s side of the demilitarized zone in the Panmunjom Peace House. South Korean officials said that in preparation for that meeting, both nations will start what The New York Times describes as “working-level discussions.” Establishing the telephone hotline will be part of this effort, as it will enable them the leaders of both countries to communicate directly.
The summit that’s planned for late next month will only be the third such meeting between the North and the South since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a resolution or peace treaty. The other two summits were held in 2000 and 2007 between Kim Jong-Un’s father and two other presidents from South Korea. The North and South planned a number of projects together as a result of those talks, but according to The Independent, the projects ended up being scrapped when new leadership took office in South Korea.
The South’s current president, Moon Jae-in, has been emphasizing the importance of resolutions with North Korea since he was on the campaign trail last year. He won the presidential election last year after campaigning on a promise of entering into fresh talks with the North. Then this year, Moon expressed a desire to be remembered as the one who brought about “a peaceful relationship” between the two sides of the Korean Peninsula.
As CNN and Reuters explained, the North and South are still technically at war with each other, but the 2018 Winter Olympics served to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The South hosted the Olympics this year and served as a window for diplomacy between the North and the South. South Korean President Moon Jae-in used the Olympics as a way to thaw relations with North Korea, something which seemed like a near-impossibility only months ago.
The North’s agreement to freeze tests of its nuclear weapons in the event of talks with the U.S. may be seen as particularly groundbreaking because the program has been a sticking point for so long. The New York Times emphasized that the South’s statement does not suggest that North Korea will begin dismantling its nuclear weapons program soon. Still, simply expressing an openness to freezing the nuclear tests is considered an important milestone for diplomatic efforts between the North and South.
Moon is reportedly hoping that by freezing the nuclear weapons testing, North Korea will demonstrate enough trust to draw U.S. President Donald Trump into the talks. Chung and other top South Korean envoys who met with North Korea this week are expected to travel to Washington to meet with the Trump administration about their groundbreaking talks with Kim, according to The New York Times.
Pyongyang and Washington now appear to be on track for key diplomatic discussions, with the former expressing openness to pausing nuclear weapons testing during the talks with the U.S. Washington has said negotiations with North Korea will only begin if the North agrees to talk about denuclearization.
Trump has previously said he was open to speaking with Kim Jong-Un “under the right conditions,” but real progress toward negotiations has not been made until now. According to Chung, Pyongyang expressed interest in “an open-ended dialogue” with the U.S. about denuclearization and also to try to “normalize” relations. The announcement comes as a positive surprise to the world, as just a few months ago, North Korea stated that its nuclear weapons were capable of destroying the U.S.