Donald Trump becomes the first sitting U.S. president to step foot on North Korean soil as he walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Photo by Shealah Craighead/White House/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, June 30 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump met Kim Jong Un at the DMZ and stepped across the border on Sunday afternoon, marking the first time a sitting U.S. president has set foot on North Korean soil.
Emerging from a scrum of security teams and traveling press, Trump and Kim met face-to-face at the military demarcation line, a low concrete ridge in the truce village of Panmunjom that marks the border between North and South.
They shook hands and chatted briefly before Kim invited Trump to cross into the North, where they again shook and posed for photos.
Crossing back to the South, the two had a very brief chat with South Korean President Moon Jae-in - the trilateral meeting another historic first -- before heading into the Freedom House in Panmunjom for a meeting that lasted almost an hour.
Afterwards, Trump said that the two sides had agreed to designate teams to resume working-level discussions on denuclearization ahead of a possible next summit.
"Over the next two or three weeks, the teams are going to start working to see whether or not they can do something," Trump said.
The president added that he was in "no hurry" get a deal done.
"Speed is not the object, we want to see if we can do a really comprehensive, good deal," he said. "This was a great day. This was a very legendary, historic day."
Current U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will head up the American team, Trump said. Both sides had already had teams in place ahead of summits in Singapore and Hanoi, and it was unclear if there would be a change in personnel.
Before the meeting, Trump and Kim praised the personal relationship they shared as a key to putting today's meeting together under short notice.
"If it was not for the excellent relationship between the two of us, it would not have been possible to have this kind of opportunity," Kim told reporters. "I hope we can use this strong relationship to create more good news that nobody expects."
"We met and we liked each other from day one, and that was very important," Trump said of the authoritarian leader.
Trump called it an "honor" that Kim asked him to cross into North Korea. "I was proud to step over that line," he said. He added that he extended an invitation to Kim to visit the White House.
He also thanked Kim for agreeing to meet under such short notice, saying "if he didn't show up, the press was going to make me look very bad."
The Trump-Kim meeting, marking the third time the two leaders have met, seemingly came together in little more than 24 hours, with the first public invitation coming via Trump's favored communications channel, Twitter.
On Saturday morning, while attending the G20 Summit of world leaders in Osaka, Japan, Trump tweeted that he was heading to South Korea and hoped to briefly see Kim.
"While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!" he wrote.
Their DMZ encounter turned out to be more than just a handshake, but observers had mixed reactions on how significant the event will turn out to be.
Andray Abrahamian, adjunct senior fellow at the Pacific Forum, a Honolulu-based foreign policy thinktank, said that the meeting gave a needed jolt of momentum to the negotiations process.
"The fact that the talks are back on track is incredibly important," he said.
He added that the impromptu nature helped make today's meeting "politically possible" for North Korea to come back to the table.
"It was always going to take some gesture from the U.S. to unlock the process," he said.
Others saw it as more optics than substance.
Victor Cha, former director for Asian affairs on George W. Bush's National Security Council, tweeted that the meeting with Kim was "just some nice pics and pageantry" if it doesn't lead towards the bigger goals of a verifiable agreement and a peace treaty.
"Great. We had a summit to reset the working level talks," he wrote.
Nobel Laureate Akira Kawasaki of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said in an email that the denuclearization process ultimately needs to go beyond the personal relationship of Trump and Kim to include the international community.
"The historic handshake is an important step on the path to peace," he wrote. "However, the fate of the region, and quite possibly the world, cannot be left to President Trump and Chairman Kim."
Moon, who has made improving relations with North Korea the centerpiece of his administration, said that he was "overwhelmed with emotion" about the surprise encounter.
"President Trump is the peacemaker of the Korean Peninsula," he said. "I hope that this meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un at Panmunjom will bring hope to the people of South and North Korea, and that it will be a milestone in the history of humankind toward peace."
Negotiations between North Korea and the United States had been at a stalemate since the second Trump-Kim summit, held in February in Hanoi, which ended abruptly without an agreement.
The two sides remain apart on their positions towards the timing and process of denuclearization. Pyongyang is looking for concessions, such as the easing of some sanctions, in exchange for steps it takes towards dismantling its nuclear program, while Washington has held out for complete denuclearization first.
Trump told reporters he was leaving sanctions in place for the time being, but seemed to indicate the possibility of compromise.
"I'm looking forward to taking [the sanctions] off," he said. "At some point during the negotiations something could happen."
After the meeting with Kim, Trump headed to Osan Air Base, located south of Seoul, where he addressed U.S. troops before heading back to Washington at the end of an eventful trip that included meetings with leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Osaka.