Donald Trump became the first sitting American president to set foot in North Korea, briefly crossing the border in the Demilitarized Zone after meeting the country’s leader Kim Jong Un for the third time.
The two leaders shook hands and then spoke with reporters before entering a building on the South Korean side of the border. Trump hailed ties with Kim and invited him to the White House.
“Stepping across that line was a great honor,” Trump said.
“It’s a very courageous and determined act,” Kim said through a translator.
While Trump has met Kim twice at summits in Singapore and Hanoi, no U.S. president has ever met a North Korean leader in the DMZ. Trump made his audacious invitation to Kim in a tweet on Saturday during meetings at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, jolting the gathering of world leaders as well as officials in the U.S. and Seoul.
“I saw that tweet and it felt like you’ve sent a flower of hope for the Korean Peninsula,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Trump on Sunday. “If you shake hands with Chairman Kim Jong Un at the Military Demarcation Line, it would be historic, just by the picture of it. Not only for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but also for a permanent peace in the region, it’ll be very meaningful.”
Trump and Kim have maintained friendly relations despite failing to agree on a path forward on a deal that would ease sanctions in return for steps toward eliminating North Korea’s nuclear threat. Their second summit, in Hanoi, collapsed after Trump refused Kim’s demand for sanctions relief in exchange for only dismantling North Korea’s main nuclear complex at Yongbyon.
Moon said on Sunday that if Kim were to “sincerely, completely” dismantle Yongbyon, the international community would be able to discuss easing sanctions.
“It’ll be the starting point for an irreversible denuclearization,” he said.
Trump defended his meetings with Kim, and claimed that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had sought to meet with the North Korean leader and been refused.
“A lot’s been done,” he said, citing Kim’s restraint from testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles since talks began between the countries. “President Obama wanted to meet and Chairman Kim would not meet him. They were begging for meetings constantly.”
While Obama said before taking office that he’d be willing to meet with Kim and other U.S. adversaries, he never publicly sought a meeting during his presidency. U.S. relations with North Korea turned sharply more hostile in 2009 after Pyongyang evicted international inspectors from its nuclear complex at Yongbyon and resumed development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
“We are so far advanced from where we were” in 2016, Trump said. He has repeatedly claimed that had former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defeated him for the presidency, the U.S. and North Korea would be at war.
“What’s happened is there was nuclear testing, there was ballistic missile testing, they had hostages of ours, as you know,” he said. “Very tough situation. And now we’re getting back our remains. We got back the hostages. There’s been no ballistic missile tests. And there’s been no nuclear tests. And South Korea’s a whole different place. And Japan.”
Throughout meetings Sunday morning, Trump and Moon both appeared unsure about whether Kim would appear. The U.S. president repeatedly cautioned that the logistics were complicated, and he said that any meeting would be little more than a photo op.
“Chairman Kim wants to do it,” he said. “A handshake means a lot,” he added.
Moon will accompany Trump to the DMZ and has eagerly encouraged the meeting, though it’s unclear whether he’ll participate. The North Korean government has scoffed at the Blue House’s attempts to act as an intermediary in negotiations between Trump and Kim.
“The South Korean authorities would better mind their own internal business,” the North Korean news agency KCNA said last week, citing a foreign ministry official.
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