STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un says he will visit Seoul, South Korea, before the end of this year. That's a big deal for a regime whose leaders have never been known for traveling much, and is an even bigger deal that Kim Jong Un would visit the capital of a country with which North Korea is still officially at war. NPR's Rob Schmitz has been covering this summit between North Korea's leader and South Korea's leader. Hi there, Rob.
ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: What's the symbolism and the substance of this announcement that Kim Jong Un is going to come across the DMZ?
SCHMITZ: Yeah, that was a big moment. You know, I'm here at a summit press center in Seoul. This is about as close as they allow journalists to get to this summit...
INSKEEP: Pyongyang was where the summit...
SCHMITZ: ...Which is in Pyongyang.
INSKEEP: OK, so you're on the same peninsula. OK.
SCHMITZ: (Laughter) Yeah, as the crow flies, it's not too far.
INSKEEP: All right.
SCHMITZ: But when he announced that, there was this very loud collective gasp from the crowd. You know, people were not expecting this here, and they were really surprised because it is a very big deal for Koreans. It would be the first time a leader of North Korea has ever visited the capital of South Korea. And this is a pretty bold move by Kim Jong Un. He's visiting a city where many people still hate him and his regime. And they also have the right to protest his visit, which I'm sure they will when he comes.
INSKEEP: Although he's been clear about what he wants. He wants an end to this formal state of war between the Koreas, doesn't he?
SCHMITZ: Yeah, he does. And it's also pretty clear that Moon Jae-in also wants that. But what's not so clear is how they get to that spot because it's pretty tricky. You have to deal with the U.S., who has to be in on that, as well as China. And those are two states that are not getting along recently (laughter) as we've seen in the news.
INSKEEP: And, of course, there's the issue of North Korea's nuclear program. And there was an announcement. The North Koreans say they're going to shut down a missile launchpad. How big a deal is that?
SCHMITZ: Well, this launchpad's called Dongchang-ri. It's the most advanced missile test site in North Korea. They launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that has a potential reach the U.S. from this site. So it's important. But what's more important here is that Kim also promised to allow international inspectors to come in and verify that this will be dismantled. I spoke to Harry Kazianis, a director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, about this, and he calls this a pretty big step.
HARRY KAZIANIS: I think that's a great first step. I think it's important to have international inspectors in there to really track the progress of what North Korea is doing. So I think any inspectors is good, but now we're going to have to see how far Kim Jong Un is going to allow them to go.
INSKEEP: Oh, well, that's the big question. What are they allowed to look at? Does history tell you anything?
INSKEEP: (Laughter) It does, Steve. You know, that's the big question that everyone in South Korea is sort of pondering. You know, this would not be the first time a North Korean leader allowed weapons inspectors into the country, and many people here remember what happened the last time they came North Korea, under the watch of Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il. It did not end well. And North Korea eventually developed nuclear weapons.
So that's what's different now. The North has these weapons. There's a new North Korean leader. And we've got a U.S. president whose popularity is waning and who is really eager to accomplish something big here. So the ultimate question here is, will Kim give up a nuclear weapons program that he and his father spent so much time and effort building? Most people here are very skeptical, but they do think the only option for South Korea, and for Trump, is to try. I spoke with Yonsei University professor Matthias Maass about this, and here's what he said.
MATTHIAS MAASS: As long as there is some talking, some minimal engagement, and so it's much better than violent rhetoric from the North and insisting on sanctions and containment on the Southern side.
INSKEEP: OK, minimal engagement. Were there concrete steps forward from this minimal engagement, the latest round of it?
SCHMITZ: A bunch of them between the two Koreas. I think the biggest one was that they both said they'd file a joint bid to host the Summer Olympic Games in 2032, which would be quite something.
INSKEEP: Rob, thanks very much. Always a pleasure talking with you.
SCHMITZ: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Seoul, South Korea.
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