South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a joint press conference after their summit at Paekhwawon State Guesthouse in Pyongyang on September 19, 2018. - North Korea's Kim Jong Un will soon make a historic visit to Seoul, he said on September 19, and has agreed to close a missile testing site in front of international inspectors, as a rare inter-Korean summit unfolded in Pyongyang. (Photo by - / Pyeongyang Press Corps / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Pyeongyang Press Corps" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS-/AFP/Getty Images
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a joint press conference after their summit in Pyongyang © AFP

North Korea has pledged to permanently shutter its long-range missile testing site and allow external inspectors to verify the process as it seeks to convince Washington and the international community about its commitment to denuclearisation.

Kim Jong Un also offered to close the country’s sprawling Yongbyon nuclear complex if the US offered corresponding concessions — widely interpreted to mean a declaration ending the officially unfinished Korean war — at an inter-Korean summit between the North Korean leader and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“Kim Jong Un has agreed to allow Nuclear inspections, subject to final negotiations, and to permanently dismantle a test site and launch pad in the presence of international experts,” Mr Trump tweeted about the developments in Pyongyang. “In the meantime there will be no Rocket or Nuclear testing … Also, North and South Korea will file a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics. Very exciting!”

Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, said that the US welcomed the move by Mr Kim to let inspectors witness the dismantling of the test site, which he said the North Korean leader had agreed to during his June summit with Mr Trump in Singapore. 

“On the basis of these important commitments, the United States is prepared to engage immediately in negotiations to transform US-DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] relations,” Mr Pompeo said on Wednesday.

He added that he had invited Ri Yong Ho, his North Korean counterpart, to meet in New York next week when both men were scheduled to attend the UN General Assembly. 

While the US embraced the statement from Mr Kim, some officials in Washington are worried that the push by South Korea to press ahead with improving relations with Pyongyang could complicate efforts by America to keep pressure on North Korea. 

“Some worry the sunshine policy could lead to a weakening of sanctions enforcement and reduce pressure on the regime,” said one senior administration official, referring to the South Korean policy to improve ties with its neighbor.

Mr Moon travelled to Pyongyang in the hope of reviving disarmament talks between Washington and North Korea, which have stalled since a historic Singapore summit between the two nations in June.

“Denuclearisation will happen in the near future. Chairman Kim has shown a clear way to denuclearisation and a war-free peninsula,” said Mr Moon, in comments aimed at reassuring sceptics who believe North Korea has no intention of abandoning its nuclear arsenal.

Mr Kim said the “seeds of peace and prosperity” planted during his first summit with Mr Moon in April had “ripened into fruit this autumn”, and promised to visit Seoul, possibly before the end of this year. 

The two Koreas also agreed to step up military co-operation, signing a “comprehensive military agreement” committing both sides to halt drills at the border separating the two nations, pull back guard posts and create a no-fly zone to prevent air clashes.

Analysts cautioned that the pledges underscored North Korea’s savvy diplomacy and its ability to extract concessions while appearing to make compromises of its own.

“It is meaningful that North Korea has eased US worries by promising to dismantle the long-range missile site. It is also a step forward that it has promised to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility,” said Kim Jae-chun, a professor at Sogang University.

“But it is regrettable that North Korea did not disclose anything about the size of its current nuclear stock pile,” he added. “The ball is now back in the US court. It must be frustrating for the US because North Korea is not saying how it plans to get rid of existing nuclear weapons.” 

Lee Seong-hyun, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, said the North Korea leader had “successfully placed the bait for another meeting with Trump. Mr Kim is a shrewd negotiator. He is very slowly moving closer towards what the US wants while preserving his pride, which is critical for his political authority at home.”

Mr Moon and Mr Kim also announced that they would also revive cross-border tours and submit a joint bid to host to the 2032 Olympics, although these plans could risk undermining international sanctions on North Korea.

Both Koreas are pushing for deeper economic engagement. For Seoul, however, such efforts risk angering the US, which is attempting to keep North Korea isolated from global trade and finance.

Since the Singapore summit in June, Pyongyang has repeatedly called on the US to make a declaration officially drawing a line under the Korean war, which concluded with an armistice in 1953.

North Korea sees such a declaration as a form of security guarantee that could be later broadened into a peace treaty.

White House officials and analysts in the west view both options warily, fearing such diplomatic concessions could pave the way for the removal of US troops from the geopolitically important Korean peninsula.

“Wednesday’s agreement has created some room for the US and North Korea to resume their nuclear talks and Pyongyang will probably ask for the official end of the Korean war and the partial lifting of economic sanctions,” said Kim Tae-woo, former head of Korea Institute for National Unification.

“If the US accepts these demands while North Korea still retains its nuclear stockpile, it will be a half-baked denuclearisation deal.”

Additional reporting by Kang Buseong

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