Kim Jong Un Walks Across Border To Meet South Korean President

Friday, April 27th 2018, 2:13 am
By: News On 6

With a single step over a weathered, cracked slab of concrete, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made history Friday by crossing over the world's most heavily armed border to greet South Korean President Moon Jae-in for talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons. Kim then invited Moon to cross briefly back into the north with him before they returned to the southern side.

It was the first time a North Korean leader has crossed over to the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone since the Korean War armistice in 1953.

The two Koreas agreed during the historic summit to rid their peninsula of nuclear weapons, but they failed to provide any new specific measures on how to achieve that goal. A joint statement issued after the leaders' talks Friday said the two Koreas had confirmed their goal of achieving "a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization." 

In what both sides referred to as the "Panmunjon Declaration," the Koreas agreed to an end goal of formally ending the Korean War with a peace treaty, and to immediately end all hostilities on the Korean Peninsula, involving trilateral or 4-way talks with the U.S. and China.

The entire summit must be seen in the context of the last year -- when the United States, its ally South Korea and the North seemed at times to be on the verge of nuclear war as the North unleashed a torrent of weapons tests - but also in light of the long, destructive history of the rival Koreas, who fought one of the 20th century's bloodiest conflicts and even today occupy a divided peninsula that's still technically in a state of war.

"I feel like I'm firing a flare at the starting line in the moment of (the two Koreas) writing a new history in North-South relations, peace and prosperity," Kim told Moon as they sat at a table, which had been built so that exactly 2018 millimeters separated them, to begin their closed-door talks. Moon responded that there were high expectations that they produce an agreement that will be a "big gift to the entire Korean nation and every peace-loving person in the world."

Beyond the carefully choreographed greeting, however, it's still not clear whether the leaders can make any progress in talks on the nuclear issue, which has bedeviled U.S. and South Korean officials for decades. North Korea's nuclear and missile tests last year likely put it on the threshold of becoming a legitimate nuclear power. North Korea claims it has already risen to that level.

Kim acknowledged the widespread skepticism: "We have reached big agreements before but were unable to fulfill them ... There are skeptical views on whether the meeting today will yield meaningful results," Kim said. "If we maintain a firm will and proceed forward hand in hand, it will be impossible at least for things to get worse than they are now."

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The leaders had "sincere, candid" talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and were working on the wording of a joint statement, according to Moon's spokesman, Yoon Young-chan. They also discussed ways to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula and improve ties.

Kim and Moon in their talks vowed to have more meetings, Yoon said, with Kim joking that he would make sure not to interrupt Moon's sleep anymore, a reference to the North's drumbeat of early morning missile tests last year.

Kim also referred to a South Korean island that North Korea attacked with artillery in 2010, killing four, saying the residents of Yeonpyeong Island who have been living in fear of North Korean artillery have high hopes the summit will help heal past scars.

Kim said he'd visit Seoul's presidential Blue House if invited.

Isaac Stone Fish, CBSN contributor and senior fellow at the Asia Society, put the summit in context.

"It's certainly incredibly significant to see these two men meeting with expectations of peace being so high," Fish said. "I think a lot of people have talked about the shift of where we are today and where we were several months ago. It's important to remember that even though the two leaders are smiling and posing with children ... it's very possible in a few months from now, tensions will go back to where they were."

"It's hard to know how much credit to give to (President) Trump's sanctions and his 'maximum pressure' policy and how much credit to give to Kim Jong Un -- the North Korean dictator feeling secure at home, feeling that he's consolidated enough power domestically, feeling that he now has enough of a nuclear weapons arsenal that he can negotiate -- if not from a position of strength -- a position that he's comfortable he'll be able to stay in power," Fish added.

Earlier, both leaders smiled broadly as Moon grasped Kim's hand and led him along a blindingly red carpet into South Korean territory, where schoolchildren gave Kim flowers and an honor guard stood at attention for inspection, a military band playing traditional Korean folk songs beloved by both Koreas and the South Korean equivalent of "Hail to the Chief."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.