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Calling for a ‘new history’ of peace and prosperity, North Korea’s Kim crosses border for summit with South Korea’s Moon

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom on Friday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom on Friday.
(Associated Press)

Kim Jong Un, who has boasted of having missiles capable of reaching the United States, became the first North Korean leader to hold summit talks in South Korea, declaring Friday morning that he hoped for “a new history of peace, prosperity and better inter-Korean ties.”

Kim walked across the border for his meeting with President Moon Jae-in, and his decision to cross at Panmunjom, a tense diplomatic outpost that’s been the site of deadly skirmishes over the years, seemed a symbolic step to show that the third-generation leader, whose grandfather founded the totalitarian state, is ready to make a deal with the South.

The two leaders, both smiling, greeted each other along the Military Demarcation Line, the border that for more than six decades has separated the two countries still technically at war. Kim and Moon chatted, crossed briefly to the northern side, and then walked together along a red carpet, accompanied by an honor guard, before entering a diplomatic building for their meeting.

As the start of the meeting, Kim said, “Today, I’m here with a mindset that I would fire a flare to kick-start a new history of peace, prosperity and better inter-Korean ties. I hope that we will have heart-to-heart conversations on issues of mutual interest, and bring about good results today,” according to a transcript released by Moon’s office.

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“I don’t want to see the previous history that we’ve seen at past summits repeat itself, going back to square one without any results. Instead, hopefully, both sides will look forward to the future, hand-in-hand and marching together toward the future,” Kim said. “Let’s talk in an open-minded, sincere and candid manner.”

Moon replied, “The weather is so nice today. Spring is here on the Korean peninsula.”

Kim, wearing a dark, Mao-inspired suit, had crossed into the South by walking between two sky-blue huts that straddle the demarcation line. He stepped over a concrete marker onto gravel on the South Korean side, a stunning visual for many Korea watchers, the men holding hands along the way.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, crosses the military demarcation line to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the border village of Panmunjom.
(Associated Press )
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“The only thing missing is a high-five and a hug,” said one news announcer, Daniel Choy, with state-funded Arirang News. “This historic moment is now immortalized.”

David Kang, a professor at USC who heads its Korean Studies Institute, said the images of Kim and Moon greeting each other — and the North’s leader walking across the border and his gracious opening statement — signaled a positive start to the summit. Kang said he and others will be watching, however, for what the leaders agree to announce later during the meeting.

“For the skeptic, it’s easy to say it doesn’t mean anything. The reality is, this is extraordinary,” he said. “This is how you begin. It’s not how you end, but it’s how you begin.”

On the meeting agenda are three key issues: improved inter-Korean relations, which have been especially strained in recent years; a sustainable agreement for peace on the peninsula, which could set a path to formally end the Korean War; and the potential denuclearization of the North, which spent last year inflaming the world by testing ballistic missiles and detonating an underground hydrogen bomb.

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The summit could be just the first round in a continuing dialogue between the two nations, which are trying to reestablish some diplomatic channels despite the tension of recent years. The two leaders, for example, recently installed a direct hotline to communicate.

A meeting between President Trump and Kim is expected to happen in the next several weeks. The United States and South Korea are key allies, and more than 28,000 American troops are stationed in and around Seoul, the capital, and elsewhere in the country.

Kim and Moon were expected to meet inside the Peace House, a building on the South side of the compound, throughout the day before a banquet there Friday night.

It is the same location where many of the talks leading to the two countries’ joint participation in the recent Winter Olympics took place. The three-story building has been “spruced up” in recent weeks, with new paint and a conference room table that will place the two leaders 2,018 millimeters apart (about 6½ feet) to symbolize the year.

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“For a long time, this area has really been used as a tourist destination. It’s a good thing to remind people about what this area is truly meant for: to have talks and maybe one day resolve the conflict on the Korean peninsula,” J. Elise Van Pool, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Korea, said during a recent tour for foreign journalists.

Before entering, Moon waited for Kim to arrive and walked to greet him at the border. The men shook hands and posed for pictures, including with a group of young students.

Moon, whose parents fled North Korea amid the war, and Kim then walked into the Peace House. The North’s leader then signed a guestbook, and South Korean media broadcast images of his remarks:

“A new history starts now: from the starting point of the age of peace and history.”

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The highly scripted opening didn’t, of course, address what the two leaders might agree to announce on Friday. They were expected to say something about the North’s willingness to change course on its rapid advancement as a nuclear power.

They were also expected to try to find common ground on a potential peace agreement, which could require the blessing of the United States and China, whose representatives were signatories to the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War.

No matter the summit’s result, it’s clear the imagery of the day will be long remembered by observers of Korean affairs.

Among those following Friday’s events was Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., who studies images for clues about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

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“It was remarkable,” she said of Kim crossing the border. “I was teasing my colleagues that, decades from now, we would remember being together for this moment.”

Stiles is a special correspondent.


UPDATES:

8:35 p.m.: This article has been updated with comments from Kim Jong Un, Moon Jae-in, David Kang and Melissa Hanham.

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5:55 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the meeting of the leaders of North Korea and South Korea.

This article was originally published at 5:45 p.m.


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