North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in during the Inter-Korean summit on Froday. Picture: AFP/KCNA/KNS
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in during the Inter-Korean summit on Froday. Picture: AFP/KCNA/KNS

Kim wants one promise from US

KIM Jong-un has reportedly promised to give up his nuclear weapons if the United States promises not to invade or attack.

Mr Kim told South Korean President Moon Jae-in at their historic summit on Friday that he would give up his nuclear arsenal if the US committed to a formal end to the Korean War and pledged not to attack.

Mr Kim also vowed during his meeting with Mr Moon to shut down the North's nuclear test site in May and disclose the process to experts and journalists from South Korea and the United States, Seoul's presidential office said.

While there are lingering questions about whether North Korea will ever decide to fully relinquish its nukes as it heads into negotiations with the US, Mr Kim's comments amount to the North's most specific acknowledgment yet that "denuclearisation" would constitute surrendering its weapons.

US national security adviser John Bolton reacted coolly to word that Mr Kim would abandon his weapons if the United States pledged not to invade.

Asked on CBS' Face the Nation whether the US would make such a promise, Mr Bolton said: "Well, we've heard this before. This is - the North Korean propaganda playbook is an infinitely rich resource.

Kim Jong-un bids farewell to his South Korean counterpart during the closing ceremony of the inter-Korean summit. Picture: AFP/KCNA/KNS
Kim Jong-un bids farewell to his South Korean counterpart during the closing ceremony of the inter-Korean summit. Picture: AFP/KCNA/KNS

"What we want to see from them is evidence that it's real and not just rhetoric."

Seoul officials, who have shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to broker talks between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump that are expected in May or June, said Mr Kim had expressed genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons.

However, there has been scepticism because for decades North Korea has been pushing a concept of "denuclearisation" that bears no resemblance to the American definition.

The North has long vowed to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its 28,500 troops from South Korea and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.

During their summit at a truce village on the border, Mr Moon and Mr Kim promised to work toward the "complete denuclearisation" of the Korean Peninsula but made no references to verification or timetables.

Mr Kim also expressed optimism about his meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Moon's spokesman Yoon Young-chan said.

"Once we start talking, the United States will know that I am not a person to launch nuclear weapons at South Korea, the Pacific or the United States," Mr Kim said, according to Mr Yoon.

He also quoted Mr Kim as saying: "If we maintain frequent meetings and build trust with the United States and receive promises for an end to the war and a non-aggression treaty, then why would we need to live in difficulty by keeping our nuclear weapons?"

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency released this photo of a message written in a guest book by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un during the Inter-Korean summit. Picture: AFP/KCNA
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency released this photo of a message written in a guest book by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un during the Inter-Korean summit. Picture: AFP/KCNA

The Korean Peninsula technically remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War was halted with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The closing of the nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, would be a dramatic but likely symbolic event to set up Mr Kim's summit with Mr Trump.

North Korea already announced this month that it has suspended all tests of nuclear devices and intercontinental ballistic missiles and plans to close its nuclear testing ground.

KIM'S BIG TEST

According to Adam Mount, a senior defence analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, Mr Kim's comments were significant because they were his most explicit acknowledgment yet that denuclearisation meant surrendering his nuclear weapons.

"Questions remain about whether Kim will agree to discuss other nuclear technology, fissile material and missiles," he said.

"However, they imply a phased process with reciprocal concessions.

"It is not clear that the Trump administration will accept that kind of protracted program." Analysts reacted with scepticism to Mr Kim's previously announced plan to close down the test site at Punggye-ri, saying the northernmost tunnel had already become too unstable to use for underground detonations following the country's sixth and most powerful test blast last September.

In his conversation with Mr Moon, Mr Kim denied that he would be merely clearing out damaged goods, saying the site also had two new tunnels that are larger than previous testing facilities, Mr Yoon said.

North Korea has vowed to shut down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and disclose the process to experts and journalists from the South. Picture: Airbus Defense & Space/38 North/Pleiades CNES/Spot Image/AP
North Korea has vowed to shut down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and disclose the process to experts and journalists from the South. Picture: Airbus Defense & Space/38 North/Pleiades CNES/Spot Image/AP

Some analysts see Mr Moon's agreement with Mr Kim at the summit as a disappointment, citing the lack of references to verification and time frames and also the absence of a definition on what would constitute a "complete" denuclearisation of the peninsula.

But Patrick McEachern, a former state department analyst now with the Washington-based Wilson Center, said it was still meaningful that Mr Moon extracted a commitment from Mr Kim to complete denuclearisation.

The move marks a significant change from Mr Kim's previous public demand to expand his arsenal of nuclear weapons in number and quality.

"The public conversation should now shift from speculation on whether North Korea would consider denuclearisation to how South Korea and the United States can advance this denuclearisation pledge in concrete steps in light of North Korea's reciprocal demands for concrete steps toward an eventual peace agreement," Mr McEachern said in an email.

North Korea has invited the outside world to witness the dismantling of its nuclear facilities before.

In June 2008, international broadcasters were allowed to air the demolition of a cooling tower at the Nyongbyon reactor site, a year after the North reached an agreement with the US and four other nations to disable its nuclear facilities in return for an aid package worth about $400 million.

But the deal eventually collapsed after North Korea refused to accept US-proposed verification methods, and the country went on to conduct its second nuclear test detonation in May 2009.

Mr Yoon said Mr Kim also revealed plans to sync its time zone with South Korea's.

The Koreas had used the same time zone for decades before the North created its own "Pyongyang Time" in 2015 by setting the clock 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan.

Mr Yoon said the North's decision to return to Seoul's time zone was aimed at facilitating communication with South Korea and the US.