North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms

Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon at the line that divides the two Koreas. Credit: Pool photo

SEOUL, South Korea — The leaders of North and South Korea agreed on Friday to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, which ravaged the peninsula from 1950 to 1953.

At a historic summit meeting, the first time a North Korean leader had ever set foot in the South, the leaders vowed to negotiate a treaty to replace a truce that has kept an uneasy peace on the divided Korean Peninsula for more than six decades, while ridding it of nuclear weapons. A peace treaty has been one of the incentives North Korea has demanded in return for dismantling its nuclear program.

“South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” read a statement signed by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, after their meeting at the border village of Panmunjom.

The agreements came at the end of a day of extraordinary diplomatic stagecraft emphasizing hopes for reconciliation and disarmament that was broadcast live around the world, beginning with a smile and handshake that Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon shared at the border and extending to a quiet, 30-minute talk they had near the end of the day in a wooded area of the village.

Their meeting was marked by some surprisingly candid moments but also sweeping pledges, with Mr. Kim declaring, “I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation.”

The event, at the Peace House, a conference building on the South Korean side of Panmunjom, was closely watched because it could set the tone for the even more critical summit meeting between President Trump and Mr. Kim, two leaders known for bold, if unpredictable, actions who put the world on edge last year with threats of a nuclear war.

The Trump administration has tightened sanctions on North Korea with China’s help and, mindful that the North has failed to deliver on its promises in the past, insisted that Mr. Kim make substantial progress dismantling his nuclear arsenal before the “maximum pressure” campaign is eased.

But by agreeing to pursue a peace deal this year, Mr. Moon held out the prospect of progress toward one of North Korea’s top goals before the North has given up its nuclear weapons, and perhaps measures to withdraw troops from inside the Demilitarized Zone, the heavily armed buffer area between the two Koreas, and create a joint fishing zone around the disputed western sea border, a scene of bloody naval skirmishes between the two Koreas.

Mr. Moon also dangled an economic carrot, reaffirming promises made in the past by the South of huge investments to help improve the North’s road and train systems. But those agreements collapsed as the North persisted in developing nuclear weapons, and Mr. Moon’s aides have said that such assistance can only come after the North makes progress toward denuclearization and sanctions are lifted.

Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim walking the red carpet at a welcoming ceremony outside the Peace House in the village of Panmunjom. Credit Pool photo

In Washington, Mr. Trump signaled his support of Mr. Moon’s position, writing early Friday on Twitter: “Good things are happening, but only time will tell!” Fifteen minutes later, he declared in an all-caps tweet, “KOREAN WAR TO END!” and said that all Americans should be “very proud” of what was taking place on the Korean Peninsula.

During an appearance in the Oval Office with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Friday, Mr. Trump said he believed that the North Korean leader was serious about making a deal to give up his nuclear weapons.

“I don’t think he’s playing,” said Mr. Trump, who faulted his predecessors for their handling of the threat from North Korea, saying they had allowed themselves to be duped.

“The United States has been played beautifully, like a fiddle, because you had a different kind of a leader,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re not going to be played, OK? We’re going to hopefully make a deal; if we don’t, that’s fine.”

On Twitter, Mr. Trump also thanked President Xi Jinping of China for his “great help” in the process.

People watched live footage of the summit meeting at a restaurant in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Credit Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images