By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Sept. 19, 2018 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un talked publicly about a nuclear-free Korea Wednesday in an unprecedented move and agreed to dismantle a key missile-testing site under the monitoring of international experts.
In his Pyongyang summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim also said his regime is willing to take additional denuclearization steps, depending on the Donald Trump administration's corresponding actions.
Kim's message is clear: he is serious about making the peninsula free of nuclear weapons, but it's still up to Washington.
The third round of talks between Moon and Kim came amid widespread skepticism about Kim's commitment to denuclearization, widely regarded as vague.
Moon's first and foremost goal was to help revitalize the stalled process in the wake of the June 12 summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore.
The left-leaning president has tried to broker the resumption of full-fledged bargaining between the two sides.
In that sense, Moon's attempt this time is seen as a half success.
Speaking at a post-summit joint press briefing, Kim said they made a "firm commitment" to strive actively to turn Korea into a land of peace without nuclear weapons or threats.
It was the first time that he mentioned denuclearization in front of external media besides his written summit accords and messages conveyed via special envoys.
He agreed to permanently shut down an engine testing facility and launch pad at the Dongchang-ri missile test zone, also known as the Seohae test site, near the border with China.
It has played an important role in the North's development of long-range missiles.
Kim expressed the North's intention of pushing for additional measures, including the permanent dismantlement of the nuclear complex in Yongbyon, if the Trump administration takes "corresponding measures" in line with the June 12 Singapore summit accord, according to the Pyongyang declaration.
The North is eager to have security assurances that begin with declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. It argues it has already done enough: suspending nuclear and missile tests, dismantling a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri and sending American detainees back home.
It's unconfirmed whether Moon and Kim have struck other verbal agreements.
"There might have been discussions on other parts associated with the nuclear issue," Cho Sung-ryul, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said. "Even if so, it would be difficult for South and North Korea to reveal (that) in detail."
He added Moon seems to have achieved the "maximum" of what he could do with regard to denuclearization.
Moon's aides have emphasized that it's quite meaningful itself for the leaders of the two Koreas to formally negotiate the nuclear issue.
The North had long claimed it's a matter to be addressed bilaterally with the U.S., not the South.
Kim has effectively passed the ball to Trump through Moon once again.
What's unclear is whether Trump will be satisfied with the Pyongyang agreement.
He issued an initial response on Twitter. He noted Kim 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."
South Korean officials have yet to brief their American counterparts on detailed results of Moon's third summit with Kim.
For Trump, Kim's promise to shut down a missile site is not new.
He announced earlier it was included in his Singapore deal with Kim and the North was "already destroying" it, although there was no talk of inviting international monitors.
Trump may pay more attention to Kim's agreement to visit Seoul "in the near future," probably by the end of this year.
The White House said it's working on another Trump-Kim meeting amid speculation that the North's leader may soon travel to New York or Washington D.C.
Meanwhile, the Moon-Kim agreement came on the 13th anniversary of the signing of the Sept. 19 Joint Statement at the six-party talks, which calls for Pyongyang to abandon its entire nuclear program in return for political and economic incentives.
U.S. envoy on N. Korea Biegun to visit Seoul this week
(LEAD) Customs seize 63.88 kg of cocaine from cargo at Busan port
(LEAD) Kim Jong-un visits mausoleum of late father to mark 7th anniv. of death
(LEAD) Moon hints at possible slowdown of minimum wage hikes
Moon set to hold 1st extended meeting of economy-related ministers