Brian Padden - VOA News
SEOUL - The leaders of North and South Korea exchanged a warm handshake Friday over the demarcation line that divides the two countries ahead of a historic summit.
North Korea's Kim Jong Un then crossed the border with Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea. "I am happy to meet you," Moon said.
Kim invited Moon to cross briefly north with him before they returned to the southern side.
After the morning session of the summit was completed, Kim returned to the northern side of the Pamunjom, in his black limousine, where he and the other North Korean leaders will have lunch. They return to the south side of the village in the afternoon for more talks.
During their private meeting, Kim told Moon he came to the summit to end the history of conflict and joked he was sorry for keeping Moon up with his late night missile tests, a South Korean official said, according to Reuters.
Kim told Moon he would be willing to visit the presidential Blue House in Seoul and wanted to meet “more often” in the future, the official said.
It is the first time a member of the Kim dynasty has set foot on southern soil since the end of the Korean War in 1953 in the latest bid to settle the world's last Cold War standoff.
This will be the third inter-Korean summit — the summits in 2000 and 2007 were held in North Korea.
The White House released a statement late Thursday, shortly after the two leaders shook hands.
"We are hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula. The United States appreciates the close coordination with our ally, the Republic of Korea, 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."
Kim and Trump are expected to meet in May or June.
Pomp and Circumstance
The greeting of the two Korean leaders was planned to the last detail.
Two fifth-grade students from the Daesongdong Elementary School, the only South Korean school within the DMZ, greeted the leaders and gave them flowers. Kim and Moon then saluted an honor guard and military band, and the two leaders introduced each other to the officials accompanying them.
They were later scheduled to take a photo inside the Peace House, where the summit will take place, in front of a painting of South Korea's Bukhan Mountain, which towers over the South Korean Blue House presidential mansion.
This first inter-Korean summit in over a decade marks a dramatic turn toward diplomacy to resolve the growing North Korean nuclear threat, after a two-year period of continuous North Korean nuclear and missile tests.
Kim has suspended further tests and declared in November that North Korea achieved its goal of developing the capability to target the U.S. mainland with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
The U.S., however, argues that further testing is needed to demonstrate operational ICBM capability. Also in the last year, Trump's maximum-pressure campaign led to international efforts to impose tough sanctions restricting most North Korean exports, which may have forced Kim to pursue talks to seek sanctions relief.
Recently, North Korea announced it would close its Punggye-ri nuclear test site but analysts are skeptical that these measures would lead to any permanent reduction in the country's nuclear capabilities.
This year, North Korea participated in the recent Olympics in South Korea, and Kim subsequently expressed a willingness to engage in denuclearization talks.
The inter-Korean summit is expected to produce a joint statement committing to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and also a clear definition of what a denuclearization outcome would entail.
"It is very difficult to know at what level they will agree on. This is more so because it is not something that can be fully completed at the summit between two Koreas," said the chairman of the Inter-Korean Summit Preparation Committee.
While North Korea will make a nuclear deal only with the United States, Moon wants to use the inter-Korean summit to create a framework for talks between Kim and Trump.
"For President Moon Jae-in, he would like to see a substantial improvement in relations between the U.S. and North Korea by serving as a mediator," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.
The U.S. has demanded the complete dismantlement of the North's nuclear arsenal before reducing sanctions. Pyongyang wants a more step-by-step approach that would likely provide some sanctions relief for freezing its current nuclear capabilities.
The leaders from North and South Korea are also expected to endorse pursuing a peace treaty to replace the 1953 armistice to end the Korean War, but such a measure will require the participation of the U.S. and China as signatories to the truce.
Within the DMZ, security was tight Thursday, the day before the summit. About 2,800 journalists have registered at the main press center to cover the event.
Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.