Singapore, 27 April 2018 – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae In shook hands on Friday over the Military Demarcation Line that divides their countries in a gesture laden with symbolism ahead of a historic summit.
“I am happy to meet you,” Mr Moon told Mr Kim before the visitor stepped over the line, making him the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended in an armistice 65 years ago.
The two men briefly stepped back over the line into the North before walking to the Peace House building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom for the summit – only the third of its kind since hostilities ceased in 1953.
It is the highest-level encounter yet in a whirlwind of nuclear diplomacy, and intended to pave the way for a much-anticipated encounter between Kim and US President Donald Trump.
In the most detailed direct reference to the process by Pyongyang so far, the North’s official KCNA news agency said Friday that Kim will “open-heartedly discuss… all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula”.
It did not mention denuclearisation, but the North’s atomic arsenal will be high on the agenda at the talks.
Last year Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear blast, by far its most powerful to date, and launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.
Its actions sent tensions soaring as Kim and Mr Trump traded personal insults and threats of war.
Mr Moon seized on the South’s Winter Olympics as an opportunity to broker dialogue between them, and has said his meeting with Kim will serve to set up the summit between Pyongyang and Washington.
Mr Trump has demanded the North give up its weapons, and Washington is pressing for it to do so in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.
But Seoul played down expectations on Thursday, saying the North’s technological advances with its nuclear and missile programmes meant any deal would be “fundamentally different in nature from denuclearisation agreements in 1990s and early 2000s”.
“That’s what makes this summit all the more difficult,” the chief of the South’s presidential secretariat Im Jong-seok told reporters.