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N Korea at crossroads

North Korea agrees to demolish nuclear site under expert supervision

Kim Jong Un to visit Seoul as Moon pushes economic ties despite sanctions

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed an agreement on denuclearization in Pyongyang on Sept. 19.  (Pyongyang Press Corps)

SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed an agreement on denuclearization and lowering military tensions on the peninsula in Pyongyang on Wednesday.

Kim agreed to the permanent demolition of an engine test site and long-range missile launcher in the western coastal region of Dongchang-ri. The process is to be conducted under the supervision of international experts.

Moon said that this is the first time that North Korea has agreed to specific measures regarding denuclearization.

The North Korean leader also stated that the regime is willing to demolish the country's largest nuclear facility in Yongbyon, 100 km north of Pyongyang, if the U.S. takes certain actions. Pyongyang has demanded that Washington declare an end to the Korean War.

The two leaders agreed to take further steps toward the process. "We agreed to make the Korean Peninsula [an area] with no nuclear arms," Kim said in a news conference after the signing ceremony. "The agreement reflects our wish for the reunification for the two Koreas."

Kim promised to visit Seoul. This would mark the first visit by a North Korean leader to the South since the Korean War.

The agreement comes with Pyongyang's denuclearization negotiations with Washington apparently having reached an impasse. The two parties are coordinating a second summit with a view to overcoming the stalemate.

North Korea has produced the majority of its nuclear arms at the Yongbyon facility. The U.S. considered military strikes targeting the complex in the 1990s and last year.

Soon after Moon and Kim's announcement, U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the agreements via Twitter.

"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."

"Very exciting!" Trump concluded in another tweet.

But experts point out that North Korea has another nuclear complex, in Kangsong, where uranium has been enriched for the past seven years secretly.

"This plant could have made a substantial amount of weapon-grade uranium, complicating further efforts to dismantle and verify denuclearization," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, in a report. "A priority in any negotiations is for North Korea to reveal all its enrichment plants and allow verification of its revelations and declarations."

Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University in Pohang, said the agreements will not be enough to persuade Washington's hard-liners. Park said the agreements either have already been talked about or are conditional on U.S. action.

"I cannot find anything new in the agreements," Park said. "The Dongchang-ri site was already mentioned by Trump in June, and demolition of Yongbyon demands that the U.S. first declare the end of the Korean War."

The two Koreas also agreed to push for joint economic projects. The Kaesong Industrial Park, on the North Korea side of the border, is to be reopened, and South Koreans will be allowed to tour Mount Kumgang, also in North Korea, as soon as "conditions are met."

Until 2016, South Korea had collaborated in operating the industrial park.

South Korean and other tourists were allowed to visit Mount Kumgang, long admired for its beauty, beginning in 1998. But in 2008, following an incident and a cross-border disagreement, South Koreans were no longer allowed to tour the area.

The two leaders agreed to hold a launching ceremony before the end of the year for a project intended to link the countries' railways and roads along the eastern and western coastlines. The agreement to link transportation lines came when the two men met in April.

In addition, Seoul and Pyongyang will discuss setting up two joint economic zones -- a fisheries' market in the Yellow Sea and a tourism complex somewhere along the east coast.

Furthermore, the Koreas agreed to pursue a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics; they will also begin preparations to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as one team.

The Blue House said Kim and Moon will visit Mount Paekdu on Thursday. Kim earlier offered to take Moon on a tour of the volcano, which all Koreans consider a holy place.

The mountain is on North Korea's border with China.

Analysts say Moon is going a long way economically before sanctions on North Korea are lifted. "Moon and his allies are motivated to see a silver lining in every cloud by their convictions that reconciliation with the North is possible, a desire to have Seoul remain at the center of interactions with Pyongyang, and a hope that a successful meeting will boost Moon's flagging approval ratings," said Scott Seaman, a director at Eurasia Group, a U.S.-based think tank.

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