President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un have met at the beginning of inter-Korean talks concerning the ‘denuclearisation’ of the Korean Peninsula.
In a carefully choreographed move at 09:27am local time, Kim approaching from a building on the northern side of the truce village of Panmunjom and President Moon heading from Freedom House building on the southern side, met exactly at the kerb line marking the North-South Korean border. They shook hands with the line between them.
It seems unexpected that Kim then asked Moon to cross over the border line into North Korea which President Moon did, the two men holding hands as he crossed.
After this, Kim crossed into South Korea, becoming the first North Korean leader to officially do so since the Korean War of 1950-53, to the Peace House summit venue where talks are taking place. The pair were greeted with flowers by children from the elementary school in the only South Korean village in the demilitarised zone (DMZ), Daeseongdong Village.
The two men introduced each other’s aides, somewhat comically added to by the few photographers and camera crew allowed to document the historic moment. They then walked into the Peace House.
Kim signed the visitors’ book, in which he wrote:
A new history begins now. The era of peace stands at the starting point.
Following a photo session in front of a painting of Mount Bukan, an 836 metre high mountain in South Korea just north of the capital city Seoul, the summit officially started at 10:15am. Accompanying Kim were Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who famously previously visited South Korea during the Winter Olympics in February.
After commenting that he hoped the summit would be the start of a new history of peace and prosperity between the two Koreas, Kim talked about ‘Pyongyang naengmyon’ (cold noodles), a North Korean delicacy, which would be served later at dinner. South Korea specifically requested that North Korea bring a noodle-making machine and chef to prepare the dish at Panmunjom.
During the meeting, Kim also stated that he would be willing to visit Cheong Wa Dae, or Blue House, the official residence of the current South Korean President. Responding to Kim’s remarks, President Moon commented: ‘At the moment Kim crossed the MDL, Panmunjom has become a symbol of peace, not a symbol of division anymore‘. He further suggested the two leaders reach an agreement and by doing so, give a big gift to the world.
The summit meeting finished at 11:55am with the parties breaking up to have lunch, Kim returning to the North Korean side.
Later today, the two leaders will plant a pine tree using soil and water from both countries to symbolize hope for peace and prosperity.
Overall, inter-Korean summit talks are expected to focus mostly on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, significantly advanced since the last inter-Korean summit in 2007. The Hwasong-15, North Korea’s longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile, has an estimated potential range, based on the North’s tests last November, of 13,000 kilometres. This would put the whole world within reach, except for Latin America and Antarctica. South Korea, supported by the US, hope for the agreed removal of North Korea’s nuclear missile capacities. Meanwhile, potentially a key negotiation demand in return on North Korea’s part, will be the removal of the American-installed South Korean Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system.
In the past week, Kim ordered the suspension of the North’s nuclear missile tests. This is to be greeted with a degree of scepticism given that his father, Kim Jong-Il, also pledged this previously before North Korea’s unilateral withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and resumption of tests in 2006. However, Kim also added when suspending tests that the North’s quest for nuclear weapons was ‘complete’ and it simply no longer needed to test its capabilities.
Ultimately, the historic meeting this morning between President Moon and Kim may prove a false dawn.
Hopes of denuclearisation in North Korea and a possible reconciliation are high. South Korean daily, Munwha Ilbo‘s reporting earlier this month that the North and South may officially end the Korean War (only a ceasefire has existed since 1953, meaning the two nations are still technically at war) and the spectre of a possible meeting between President Trump and Kim in approximately a month’s time, have only bolstered the likelihood of a positive outcome.
However, it remains unclear whether North Korea is entering negotiations seriously and not instead buying time for further nuclear development, or merely gaining a positive propaganda coup by gaining recognition via the meetings, particularly the potential meeting with Trump. Seoul has also sought to downplay hopes, emphasising that getting a deal to rid Pyongyang of its nuclear capabilities will be ‘difficult’.
It seems then, that the only certainty for the third inter-Korean summit, launched today with the historic meeting between President Moon and Kim this morning, is that the world will keep watching, eager to know the outcome.
Update – President Moon of South Korea and Kim Jong-un of North Korea have now announced that they have agreed to work towards denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.