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Trump says US, N. Korea agreed to restart nuclear talks during historic DMZ meeting

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands across the line separating North and South Korea on Sunday, June 30, 2019.

VIA KCNA

By KIM GAMEL AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 1, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea – President Donald Trump shook hands with Kim Jong Un, then became the first sitting American president to step onto North Korean territory Sunday in an extraordinary impromptu summit aimed at boosting stalled nuclear talks.

Donald Trump called it a “very legendary, very historic day” and said the two sides agreed to have designated teams resume negotiations in two to three weeks, which would be more than four months after their second meeting in Vietnam ended without agreement.

“We’re not looking for speed. We’re looking to get it right,” Trump told reporters after ending nearly an hourlong sit-down with Kim in the Demilitarized Zone.

However, experts noted that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program remains largely intact despite more than a year of grand gestures by the two unpredictable leaders, who have gone from trading personal insults and threats of war to professing friendship.

The encounter ended hours of suspense after Trump tweeted an invitation to Kim to hold a meet-and-greet at the DMZ. North Korea responded positively but did not make a firm commitment, and Trump played down expectations, saying any meeting would likely last no more than five minutes.

After touring other sights in the highly fortified area, Trump was driven in a convoy to the Joint Security Area, as the section that straddles the border in the truce village of Panmunjom is known.
He and Kim then appeared on their respective sides and began walking toward each other, meeting at the concrete curb that serves as the Military Demarcation Line.

Historic handshake

The two leaders shook hands before Trump stepped across the curb into and walked several feet with Kim into the North. The two men then walked back and Kim crossed into the South, where he shook hands with a waiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“It’s a great honor to be here,” Trump said after returning to the South Korean side. He also said he was ready to invite Kim to the White House, and Kim responded that he’d like Trump to visit the North Korean capital Pyongyang.

Kim called the visit an expression of his willingness to work toward a new future.

The three men then walked into the South Korean building known as the Freedom House, where Kim and Trump talked for about 50 minutes.

Trump noted that what had been expected to be a short meeting had extended into a lengthy sit-down.

“Leaving South Korea after a wonderful meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un,” he tweeted as he flew home. “Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!”

Extended meeting

It was his third meeting with Kim since they met in another historic first on June 12, 2018, in Singapore. A second summit in late February in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended without agreement after the two sides failed to bridge a wide gap over U.S.-led economic sanctions.

The stakes were high as the U.S. administration has been seeking to break a deadlock in talks with North Korea over its banned nuclear weapons program.

Negotiations began in force last year after months of hostilities as the North displayed strong progress toward developing a nuclear weapon that could target the U.S. mainland.

The meeting underscored Trump’s determination to use his personal negotiating style to try to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. The two men were shown sitting before a row of interspersed U.S. and North Korean flags, suggesting the Americans had preplanned for the possibility of a sit-down.

Earlier, Trump and Moon were escorted to Operation Post Ouellette, which overlooks North Korea’s side of the heavy fortified border, a 2.5 mile wide, 155-mile long buffer zone that was carved after the 1950-53 Korean War.

They then were driven in a motorcade to the Joint Security Area, the site of the blue buildings that straddle the border and have hosted past talks, including those that resulted in the 1953 armistice that ended the war in lieu of a peace treaty.

Trump thanked the United Nations troops assembled to greet him. He also said his visit to the DMZ had been scheduled for months, but he had decided only on Saturday to invite Kim.

“Yesterday I had the idea maybe I’ll call Chairman Kim and see if he wants to say hello, so we didn’t give him much notice,” he said. “But we respect each other.”

Trump tried to go to the area during his previous visit to South Korea in 2017, when tensions were high with the North, but his helicopter was turned back because of bad weather.

What next?

North Korea watchers said the meeting could be effective in building trust but cautioned that working-level negotiations were needed to resolve the overall problem.

“Certainly today’s ceremony and symbolism is not unhelpful, but it is unclear how and when this path will lead to a nuclear-free North Korea,” Barry Pavel of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security wrote in a commentary.

The Trump administration has insisted it will maintain sanctions, which include unilateral measures as well as those imposed by the United Nations Security Council, until denuclearization is achieved.

The North wants a reciprocal approach in which it is rewarded for steps already taken.

Moon, who has staked his political legacy on forging peace with the North, praised Trump and Kim for "being so brave" to hold the meeting in the DMZ.

"I hope President Trump will go down in history as the president who achieves peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he added, according to pool reports.

Communication between the two sides reached a peak last year but has stalled since the Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim ended without agreement in February.

The meeting came just over a year after the Singapore summit, where they agreed to the general principle of working toward the total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Other U.S. presidents have visited the Joint Security Area since Ronald Reagan began the trend, usually expressing their resolve to prevent the North from obtaining nuclear weapons. Former President George H.W. Bush visited when he was vice president.

But Trump was the first to meet with a North Korean leader. He also became the first to hold a summit with the communist state in Singapore.

Past presidents have refused to meet with the North until it agreed to denuclearization.

Trump flew directly from the DMZ to Osan Air Base, where he spoke to more than 2,000 troops stationed in South Korea before flying back to Washington.

Some 28,500 U.S. servicemembers are stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North since their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

chang.kyong@stripes.com
 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks toward U.S. President Donald Trump, waiting at the berm separating North and South Korea, on Sunday, June 30, 2019.
VIA KCNA

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