Korean People's Army soldiers walk past a propaganda painting displayed at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, in Panmunjom, near Kaesong, on November 30, 2016. Photo: AFP / Ed Jones

In a surprisingly short meeting held at Panmunjeom, inside the Demilitarized Zone, on Thursday, senior officials from both Koreas agreed on a date for a summit between their respective leaders. The talks will take place on April 27, and on the southern side of the truce village, as had been expected.

This will be the third such inter-Korean summit, following previous meetings in 2000 and 2007. However, it will be the first time a North Korean leader has stepped across the border, painted on the cement between Panmunjeom’s iconic blue huts, and onto the South’s soil. Both previous summits took place in the North’s capital, Pyongyang.

Thursday’s meeting was held on the northern side of Panmunjeom. It started at 10am local time, and was over by early afternoon, surprising those who had anticipated talks going on until late in the evening, as is often the case with inter-Korean dialogue.

A detailed agenda for the April 27 talks was not set, with Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country simply saying – according to TV reports – that “everything” would be on the table. The two sides, did, however, agree to hold working-level talks on April 4 to hammer out further details.

“The April summit will be another start of a great journey to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, bring peace to the peninsula and develop inter-Korean ties,” said South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, the South’s chief delegate, according to the Yonhap Newswire.

According to joint press reports, Ri, the North’s chief delegate, said: “Over the past 80 days, there have been many dramatic events that have not been seen earlier.”

He was referring to the whirlwind of regional and global diplomacy sparked by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s broadcast, which led to intense inter-Korean politicking on the sidelines of the Pyongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. High points of that diplomacy include Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae-in; US President Donald Trump agreeing to a proposal from Kim, delivered via South Korean envoys, for a summit with the North Korean leader in May; and Kim meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his first overseas trip since assuming power, early this week.

“The April summit will be another start of a great journey to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, bring peace to the peninsula and develop inter-Korean ties”

The April summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to help set the scene for the Kim-Trump summit – the first ever meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president – in May. The location and agenda for that summit have not yet been set, as far as is publicly known.

In comments to Xi and to South Korean envoys who visited him in Pyongyang, Kim has agreed to conditional denuclearization. Trump has repeatedly stated his belief that Kim’s apparent eagerness to meet is due to the pressure tactics, notably sanctions, applied by the United States and its allies, and that these tactics must continue, even during the upcoming talks.

However, it is not clear at this stage what kind of process the two leaders will agree on to reach the outcome of denuclearization. It is not known exactly how far Kim will go, or what conditions he will attach to denuclearization. Further questions hang over whether the US and its allies will be willing to lift any pressure in order to facilitate progress, or whether they may, themselves, differ on what incentives to offer Kim.

Even so, the current air of détente and hope is an about-turn from the events of 2017, when, amid nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, and a war of words between Pyongyang and Washington, there were fears that the US might conduct a military strike on the North.

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