North Korea's Kim Jong-un reconfirms determination to completely denuclearise the peninsula, South's national security adviser says after meeting the leader in Pyongyang.

A South Korean envoy shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on September 6, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
A South Korean envoy shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on September 6, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). (Reuters)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "reconfirmed his determination to completely denuclearise" the peninsula, and expressed his willingness for close co-operation with South Korea and the United States in that regard, the South's national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters on Thursday, a day after meeting Kim in Pyongyang to set up an inter-Korean summit.

A similar statement on denuclearisation from the Korean Central News Agency wasn't new information – Kim has repeatedly declared similar intentions before – but it allowed for hopes to rise that diplomacy can get back on track after the recriminations that followed Kim's meeting in June with US President Donald Trump in Singapore. 

The impasse between North Korea and the United States, with neither side seemingly willing to make any substantive move, has generated widespread scepticism over Trump's claims that Kim is intent on dismantling his nuclear weapons programme.

Kim told South Korean officials that his faith in Trump remains "unchanged" and he wanted to end long-standing hostile relations between the two countries during Trump's first term, Chung said.

"Chairman Kim ... expressed frustration over the doubt shown by some parts of the international society about his will," Chung said.

"North Korea has been preemptively carrying out measures needed for denuclearisation, and Kim said he would appreciate that such good faith is accepted with good faith."

Korea summit

A summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in Pyongyang has been confirmed for September 18 to 20, the senior South Korean official said. Moon is seen as eager to keep the nuclear talks alive in part so that he can advance his ambitious engagement with the North, which would need US backing to succeed.

Seoul also wants a trilateral summit among the countries, or a four-nation meeting that also includes Beijing, to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. 

However, Chung said a trilateral summit between Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang at the UN General Assembly in New York later this month is unlikely to happen. Chung told reporters on Thursday that the conditions for such a meeting hadn't been created.

US officials have insisted that a peace declaration, which many see as a precursor to the North eventually calling for the removal of all US troops from the Korean Peninsula, cannot come before North Korea takes more concrete action toward abandoning its nuclear weapons. Such steps may include providing an account of the components of its nuclear programme, allowing outside inspections and giving up a certain number of its nuclear weapons during the early stages of the negotiations.

End of war

While an end-of-war declaration wouldn't imply a legally binding peace treaty, experts say it could create political momentum that would make it easier for North Korea to steer the discussions toward a peace regime, diplomatic recognition, economic benefits and security concessions.

North Korea has accused the United States of making "unilateral and gangster-like" demands for denuclearisation and holding back on the end-of-war declaration. North Korea's foreign ministry on Tuesday published a lengthy statement on its website saying that an end-of-war declaration would be a necessary trust-building step between the wartime foes that would "manifest the political will to establish the lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."

South Korean officials said an end-of-war declaration would be among the issues discussed in the meetings between the South Korean envoys and North Korean officials.

"Our government believes that an end-of-war declaration is very much needed while we enter a process toward stabilising peace in the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearisation," said Chung, Moon's national security adviser and the head of the South Korean delegation to Pyongyang on Tuesday.

"We will continue to put in efforts so that an end-of-war declaration can be reached by the end of the year. We are always maintaining close communication with the United States."

Stalled progress

After their June summit in Singapore, Trump and Kim issued a vague statement about a nuclear-free peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. Post-summit nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang were rocky and quickly settled into a stalemate.

While the United States maintains that efforts to improve relations between the Koreas should move in tandem with efforts to denuclearise North Korea, Moon has recently said inter-Korean engagement could take the lead.

"If needed, we should pull forward the negotiations for the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula with the development in relations between the South and North," Chung said.

Trump called off a planned visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month, citing insufficient progress in denuclearissation. The resumption of US-North Korea talks sometime before the next inter-Korean summit, which will likely take place in mid-September, could give Moon more to work with when he arrives in Pyongyang.

The two past inter-Korean summits in April and May removed war fears and initiated a global diplomatic push that culminated with the meeting between Kim and Trump in June.

But Moon faces tougher challenges heading into his third meeting with Kim with the stalemate in nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington raising fundamental questions about Kim's supposed willingness to abandon his nuclear weapons.

The Korean War ended with an armistice, leaving the peninsula technically still at war. Moon has made an end-of-war declaration an important premise of his peace agenda with North Korea.

Source: AP