Smiling and holding hands, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have met at the heavily fortified demilitarised zone between the countries in the first summit for the two Koreas in over a decade.
Scenes of Moon and Kim joking and walking together on Friday marked a striking contrast to last year’s barrage of North Korean missile tests and its largest ever nuclear test that led to sweeping international sanctions and fears of a fresh conflict on the Korean peninsula.
The dramatic meeting, aimed at ending their decades-long conflict, comes weeks before Kim is due to meet US President Donald Trump.
“We are at a starting line today, where a new history of peace, prosperity and inter-Korean relations is being written,” Kim said before the two Korean leaders and their top aides began talks.
Moon and Kim are expected to discuss denuclearisation and exchanges between the Koreas and also will plant a memorial tree at the border truce village of Panmunjom.
Just days before the summit, Kim said North Korea would suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and dismantle its only known nuclear test site.
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But there is widespread scepticism about whether Kim is ready to abandon the hard-earned nuclear arsenal his country has defended and developed for decades as what it says is a necessary deterrent against U.S. invasion.
“Today, rather than create results we won’t be able to carry out like in the past, we should make good results by talking frankly about current issues, issues of interest,” Kim said.
Moon greeted Kim at the military demarcation line, making Kim the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.
In an unplanned move, Kim invited Moon to step briefly across into North Korea, before the two leaders crossed back into South Korea holding hands.
The pair were met on a red carpet by a South Korean honour guard in historical costumes and playing traditional music.
“A new history starts now. An age of peace, from the starting point of history,” Kim wrote in Korean in a guest book in the South’s Peace House before talks began.
“I hope we will be able to talk frankly and come to an agreement to give a big present for the Koreans and the people around the world who wish for peace,” Moon said as the two began their official talks.
Earlier Friday, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Kim would “open-heartedly discuss with Moon Jae-in all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula”.
Moon travelled to the meeting in a large motorcade, stopping briefly to greet dozens of summit supporters waving South Korean flags near the presidential Blue House in Seoul.
Hundreds of demonstrators were seen gathering in downtown Seoul from early morning to protest or support the summit.