President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president set foot in North Korea on Sunday afternoon, briefly crossing into the country to meet with leader Kim Jong Un, a session that led to an agreement to restart talks on nuclear disarmament.
After shaking hands with Kim at the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, Trump told reporters it “was a great honor” to step “across that line.”
Kim told Trump that it was “good to see you again,” CNN reported.
“I didn’t expect to meet you at this place,” Kim added.
Following their historic photo op, Trump and Kim sat down for a closed-door meeting on the South Korean side of the DMZ.
The two leaders agreed during their tête-à-tête to restart nuclear talks, Trump later said, adding that his chat with Kim had been “very, very good.”
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On Saturday, Trump had issued ― via Twitter ― a last-minute invitation to Kim for a possible meeting at the DMZ as the president prepared to leave Japan after attending the annual G-20 summit.
“I will be leaving Japan for South Korea,” the president tweeted. “While there, if Chairman Kim … sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”
Kim said on Sunday that he’d been “very surprised” by the Twitter invitation.
“I was very surprised to hear about your offer on the tweet,” Kim told Trump, adding that the impromptu meeting had only been possible thanks to his “excellent relationship” with the president.
“If it wasn’t for that good relationship, we would not have been able to make this sudden meeting possible,” Kim said.
The DMZ meeting had been expected to be brief, with Trump predicting that it might “only be a handshake” ― but the two leaders ended up speaking privately for about 50 minutes inside the Freedom House on the South Korean side of the DMZ.
Following the meeting, Trump said he and Kim had agreed to restart talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula ― negotiations that stalled earlier this year.
Trump said negotiators from the two countries would begin meetings in the coming weeks. But, he added, “speed is not the object.”
“We want to see if we can do a really comprehensive, good deal,” Trump said.
The U.S. negotiating team will continue to be led by special envoy Stephen Biegun. It’s unclear who the North Korean representatives will be.
There have been rumors that some previous North Korean negotiators were executed by Kim’s regime following the failure of the earlier bilateral talks. When Trump was asked by reporters whether he thought the North Korean negotiators were still alive, he said he “thinks” they are.
“I can tell you the main person is [alive],” Trump said, without specifying who he was referring to. “I would hope the rest are too.”
Some experts said they would view the Trump and Kim DMZ encounter as nothing more than a “photo op” unless it resulted in a “verifiable agreement.”
“I’m not against diplomacy but this is Reality TV,” Victor Cha, a Korea expert who served on former President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, wrote on Twitter.
“It’s only ‘historic’ if it leads to denuke negotiations, a verifiable agreement and a peace treaty. Otherwise it’s just some nice pics and pageantry,” Cha said.
Joseph Yun, the former U.S. special envoy to North Korea, told CNN that “at this point I’m not sure what it is that President Trump is trying to accomplish.”
Despite Trump’s ongoing engagement with Kim, “there has been no decline in the stockpile of North Korean nuclear weapons or missiles; in fact, they have increased them,” said Yun, who served both former President Barack Obama and Trump.
“Yes, it’s true that tensions are down, but remember that tensions were built up because of all the fire and fury in 2017,” Yun continued, referring to earlier threats made by Trump against Kim’s regime.
After leaving the DMZ, Trump addressed U.S. troops at South Korea’s Osan Air Base before boarding Air Force One for his return flight to Washington.
While on board, he tweeted about his “wonderful meeting” with Kim.
“Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!” Trump wrote.
This story has been updated with Trump’s Air Force One tweet and additional details regarding Sunday’s DMZ meeting.
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