The historic move had been initiated by a spur-of-the-moment tweet by Mr Trump on Saturday, when the US president invited Mr Kim to come to the highly fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea to “shake his hand and say hello”.
In a dramatic made-for-TV moment, Mr Kim took up Mr Trump’s offer and travelled down to the border zone – a 4km-wide slab of land that has been described as one of the world’s most dangerous places – to meet him shortly before 4pm.
“Good to see you again. I never expected to see you in this place,” Mr Kim said as he greeted Mr Trump in an encounter that was broadcast live around the world.
The US president then took an unprecedented step across the concrete slab that marks the border’s “military demarcation line” and walked resolutely, shoulder to shoulder with Mr Kim, several metres inside the North.
Moments later, they accompanied each other to the southern side and joined Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, marking another first with a three-way gathering.
“A lot of really positive things are happening,” Mr Trump told a scrum of waiting reporters afterwards. “We met and liked each other from day one and that was very important.”
The chaotic scene of reporters and secret service members bumping into each other highlighted how little planning had gone into the hastily arranged encounter.
But the two leaders were oblivious to the confusion as they exchanged invitations to visit the respective capitals “at the right time”.
Speaking to the press after their impromptu summit, Mr Trump described their meeting as a “very good one, very strong, very solid”, revealing that they had agreed to establish teams to try to overcome the impasse over the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
“We want to see if we can do a really comprehensive, good deal,” said Mr Trump, although he stressed that speed was not a priority. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, later indicated that a fresh round of talks would happen “sometime in July”.
Yesterday’s brief encounter was the third meeting between the two leaders in a year. Mr Trump and Mr Kim held a previous summit in Singapore and more recently another in Vietnam but have been unable to strike a deal in which North Korea renounces its nuclear weapons facilities in exchange for reductions of tough sanctions that have stymied its economy.
Pope Francis, making his weekly address in St Peter’s Square, praised the meeting. “I salute the protagonists, with a prayer that such a significant gesture will be a further step on the road to peace, not only on that peninsula, but for the good of the entire world,” he said.
However, the meeting, while resetting relations between the two countries, did little to move the dial in terms of nuclear disarmament. Analysts remained divided over the significance of the political theatrics.
“[It] may have been symbolically potent, but the result was anti-climactic,” said Edward Howell, an Oxford University international relations scholar.
“If the working-level negotiations do go ahead, the question of why these have started only now remains. I am sceptical that this will lead to concrete progress. Kim is likely to use this as a tool to boost his status domestically.” (© Daily Telegraph London)
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