North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has proven in the past that he would be willing to say anything to keep South Korea and the US at the bargaining table, even if he doesn't intend to follow through. And just a few weeks after President Trump canceled a planned visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kim on Wednesday announced that he would allow international monitors to enter the country and observe the dismantling of the North's nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, its primary source of nuclear fuel, amid a raft of other bilateral promises including plans for the North and South to field a joint team at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020 while seeking a joint bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
While Moon heralded this announcement as an important breakthrough in attaining a "nuclear-free" North Korea,it's worth noting that the North has promised to close down Yongbyon before - going as far back as 2007, according to NPR.
In addition to Yongbyon, the North promised observed shutdowns of its missile engine testing site and launch pad in the Northwestern town of Dongchang-ri. However, the significance of shuttering these two facilities is not clear, according to Reuters, and suspicions remain that these shutdowns could be easily reversed.
Satellite image of the North's nuclear facility at Yongbyon (courtesy of TASS)
Experts who spoke with Reuters said the US shouldn't read too much in to these gestures.
Seo Yu-suk, a research manager at the Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the facilities at Dongchang-ri and Yongbyon are "almost obsolete" and the North has mobile missile launchers that are easier to use and harder to detect, while there are likely covert sites elsewhere.
What's more, satellite images and other evidence released in recent months have found evidence that North Korea has continued clandestine work on its nuclear program. Though the North promised it would reveal the locations of many of these hidden facilities and mobile launchers as part of the deal.
But that didn't stop President Trump from chiming in on twitter to praise the agreement as "very exciting!"
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. In the meantime there will be no Rocket or Nuclear testing. Hero remains to continue being........— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2018
....returned home to the United States. Also, North and South Korea will file a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics. Very exciting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2018
During what was Moon's third visit to the North since relations between the two warring neighbors began to thaw earlier this year, defense ministers for the North and South reached a sweeping agreement to suspend military flights near the heavily armed border between the two countries at the 38th Parallel, disarm border guards at the Panmujon border village and draw down some soldiers from the demilitarized zone. Both countries will establish "buffer zones" between the coastline and maritime borders to lower the risk of accidental military clashes. Moon is expected to remain in the North through Thursday.
Here's more from RT:
As part of the military agreement, the neighbors will halt border drills from November 1, Yonhap reports. South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo and North Korea’s No Kwang-chol also agreed to stop military flights in the vicinity of the demarcation line. In addition, the agreement envisions setting up a buffer zone in the Yellow Sea and suspending maritime drills.
As a clear sign of mutual trust, the Pyongyang military agreement also calls for the withdrawal of soldiers from the demilitarized zone and disarming the servicemen keeping watch at Panmunjom border village. The nations also agreed that each would close eleven border guard posts by the end of 2018.
The Koreas’ armed forces will establish and operate a "joint military committee" to discuss the implementation of the military agreement on a "permanent basis," Moon Jae-in noted.
Kim praised the agreement as an important step toward "lasting peace."
Speaking to the press on the outcome of Moon's visit to North Korea, Kim noted that the "agreement at Pyongyang summit will advance an era of peace, prosperity." Kim especially noted that the military agreement will help to denuclearize the peninsula and reach a lasting peace.
Beyond Kim's nuclear promises, the two countries have also agreed that Kim will soon travel to South Korea for what will be the first visit by a North Korean head of state to the South. Meanwhile, the White House has said that arrangements are underway for Kim to visit the US.
The Koreas also agreed to begin reconnecting railways and roads linking the two countries within this year. They also plan to restart work at a joint factory park in the North border city of Kaesong and tours to North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort once certain conditions have been met to ensure that the North is working toward denuclearization.
According to Reuters, some worry these projects would violate UN sanctions - which would be a major benefit for Kim, we imagine, because it would signal that he can slowly wrest concessions from the West by standing his ground and continuing to express a "willingness" to negotiate. The North has a long history of making overtures for peace, only to resort back to hostility once it received international aide or some other carrot, per NPR.
Even so, lasting rapprochement between the two Koreas have proven elusive in the past, with hopes for peace degenerating into renewed recriminations and saber rattling following two previous summits in 2000 and 2007.
And while it's still unclear what actions the US will take in response to this, that didn't stop Moon from heralding this latest "breakthrough" as moving toward a "land of peace without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats"
But as the old saying goes, proof is in the pudding. Many analysts will remain wary of the North's sincerity until the last nuke is removed from the country.