After a year of tensions, the first North-South Korea summit in more than a decade began Friday with a handshake. Their hands still clasped, South Korean President Moon Jae-In invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un into the South for the first time ever, just one step over a line marked by an ankle-high strip of concrete, over the world’s most heavily armed border. After he did, Kim, in return, gestured for Moon to step into the North. They both did, and then returned to the South together, hands held.
“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”.
Nuclear weapons topped the agenda, and Friday’s summit will be the clearest sign yet of whether it’s possible to peacefully negotiate those weapons away from a country that has spent decades doggedly building its bombs despite crippling sanctions and near-constant international opprobrium.
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.
Expectations are generally low, given that past so-called breakthroughs on North Korea’s weapons have collapsed amid acrimonious charges of cheating and bad faith.
The White House said in a statement that it is “hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula. … (and) looks forward to continuing robust discussions in preparation for the planned meeting between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong Un in the coming weeks”.