Factsheet: The 2018 Inter-Korean Summit

The third in a series on the North Korea nuclear crisis

On April 27, 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet for the first time. It will be the third inter-Korean summit in Korean history and the first to occur in South Korea. The summit comes amid a detente on the Korean peninsula that began with the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics. As a US-North Korea summit is slated to occur in early June, the inter-Korean summit will lay the groundwork for negotiations about denuclearization and set the tone for talks between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.

What to Expect

  • A North-South joint declaration. President Moon’s Chief of Staff announced that the framework for a joint declaration is complete and “final revisions and agreements will be made at the summit.” Previous inter-Korean summits have resulted in formal statements that commit both sides to address issues of reunification, divided families, military hostilities, and economic cooperation.
  • A pledge to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. South Korea has coordinated closely with the United States to broker the longstanding issue of North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities. An official statement in which Kim Jong Un commits to take steps toward the permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula would go a long way to ensure that a meeting with President Trump takes place. President Moon has tied the prospects for a successful inter-Korean summit to a US-North Korea agreement on denuclearization.
  • A commitment to formally end the Korean War. The Korean War (1950-1953) did not come to a formal end, but a negotiated Armistice Agreement that established the military division between North and South Korea. The United States (representing the United Nations Command), North Korea, and China are signatories to the agreement. South Korea is not a signatory; then-President Syngman Rhee sought to unify the peninsula and therefore opposed the terms for an armistice. Beyond establishing a “complete cessation of all hostilities in Korea by all armed force,” the armistice was intended to address the repatriation of prisoners of war, the withdrawal of foreign forces, and a peaceful settlement. Now approaching its 65th year, the armistice remains in effect. One of President Moon’s top policy goals for the Korean peninsula has been “to substitute the past sixty years of an unstable armistice with a permanent peace regime.” Recently, his National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong confirmed that such a prospect is being discussed ahead of the inter-Korean summit. In an unprecedented endorsement by a US president, Trump remarked that North and South Korea “have my blessing to discuss the end to the war.” Given that North Korea has, historically, sought a peace treaty as a precondition to denuclearization, the prospects for exploring a formal end to the Korean War during the summit are high.

What’s New

The third inter-Korean summit features key differences from the previous two initiatives led by Presidents Kim Dae Jung (2000) and Roh Moo Hyun (2007).

  • Location. Holding the summit in South Korea breaks with precedent as previous summits were held in Pyongyang, North Korea. The Peace House at Panmunjom holds symbolic significance; it is the site where the Korean War Armistice was signed. It will also be the first time that a North Korean leader sets foot in the South.
  • Players. On the North Korean side, Kim Jong Il participated in the last two summits. Under the new leadership of his son Kim Jong Un, there may be greater incentive for North Korea to ensure that this summit is a success. On the South Korean side, President Moon comes in with decades of experience on inter-Korean reconciliation, having been chief of staff for former president Roh Moo Hyun.
  • Timing. The previous two summits occurred late in each South Korean president’s term. That the upcoming summit is happening in President Moon’s first year allows both sides to make substantial headway on agreements.

The Lead Up

Jan. 1, 2018 In a New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un states the completion of North Korea’s nuclear status and expresses a desire to improve inter-Korean relations.
Jan. 4, 2018 President Trump and President Moon agree to postpone joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics.
Jan. 9, 2018 Inter-Korean high-level talks are held at Panmunjom. North Korea agrees to participate in the Winter Olympics.
Feb. 9, 2018 North and South Korea march together under a unified flag at the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Feb. 10, 2018 Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong invites President Moon to visit North Korea.
March 5, 2018 A South Korean delegation meets with Kim Jong Un in North Korea.
March 6, 2018 South Korea announces an inter-Korean summit will be held at Panmunjom in late April.
March 9, 2018 President Trump agrees to meet with Kim Jong Un in May.

Past Inter-Korean Agreements

For more information on the inter-Korean summit and other developments on the Korean peninsula, please contact Catherine Killough at ckillough@ploughshares.org