By John Everard

For the first time a North Korean leader has set foot in South Korea. Not only did Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In seem to get on well, but they agreed on a broad agenda for the next year.

The public euphoria in South Korea is understandable but there are reasons to be very sceptical that lasting peace is on the table.

This is only the first of three summits. Kim will meet US president Donald Trump soon and President Xi Jinping of China will visit Pyongyang after that. The cumulative impact of all three meetings determines what happens next. The leaders' joint statement — the Panmunjom Declaration — contains three lumps the White House will find difficult to swallow.

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First, the two Koreas "affirmed the principle of determining the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord".

That excludes the US in solving the problems of the peninsula. Secondly, they "agreed to actively implement the projects previously agreed in the 2007 October 4 Declaration", which includes several ambitious economic co-operation projects.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, (left), and South Korean President Moon Jae-in embrace each other after signing on a joint statement. Photo / AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, (left), and South Korean President Moon Jae-in embrace each other after signing on a joint statement. Photo / AP

But since then the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on North Korea, and since most of these projects would violate those sanctions, that flies in the face of Trump's declared intention to maintain pressure on North Korea.

Thirdly, the two nations "confirmed the common goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula". That echoes a North Korean formulation by which "denuclearisation" means not only the surrender of North Korea's arsenal but also the elimination of the possibility of a nuclear strike on the peninsula by others, principally the US. "Denuclearisation" in this sense would be almost impossible to achieve.

North Korea has cheated on past agreements, sometimes even before the ink was dry. We know Kim's father could not be trusted. We do not know whether we can trust Kim himself.

It is quite possible the North Koreans are trying to split South Korea from the US and weaken the enforcement of sanctions, which are causing them real headaches. Perhaps Kim is playing on Moon's craving for detente to persuade him to renew the aid his predecessors cut.

Perhaps Kim has decided to end confrontation with the South and international community, and is prepared to do a deal. The only way to find out will be to move forward cautiously, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

• John Everard was the British ambassador to North Korea 2006-2008.