Donald Trump became the first US president to visit North Korea during a meeting with Kim Jong Un at the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone amid moves to revive talks on the pariah nation’s nuclear programme in a bid for a legacy-defining accord.
The meeting, another historic first in the year-long rapprochement between the two technically warring nations, marks a return to face-to-face contact between the leaders since talks broke down during a summit in Vietnam in February.
But it does little to erase significant doubts that remain about the future of the negotiations and the North’s willingness to give up its stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Mr Trump’s brief crossing into North Korean territory marked the latest milestone in two years of roller-coaster diplomacy between the two nations, as personal taunts of “little rocket man” and threats to destroy the other have been ushered out by on-again, off-again talks, professions of love and flowery letters.
Leaving South Korea after a wonderful meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un. Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2019
“I was proud to step over the line,” Mr Trump told Mr Kim as they met in a building known as Freedom House on the South Korean side of the village.
“It is a great day for the world.”
Mr Kim hailed the moment, saying of Mr Trump: “I believe this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate all the unfortunate past and open a new future.”
He added that he was “surprised” when Mr Trump invited to meet by a tweet on Saturday.
What was originally expected to be a brief exchange of pleasantries over the raised line of concrete marking the border between North and South, Mr Trump had said it would last “two minutes”, turned into private talks stretching beyond a half hour.
Mr Trump was joined in the Freedom House conversation with Kim by his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both senior White House advisers.
Peering into North Korea from atop Observation Post Ouellette, Mr Trump told reporters before meeting Mr Kim that there has been “tremendous” improvement since his first meeting with the North’s leader in Singapore last year.
Mr Trump claimed the situation used to be marked by “tremendous danger” but “after our first summit, all of the danger went away.”
But North Korea has yet to provide an accounting of its nuclear stockpile, let alone begin the process of dismantling its arsenal.
The meeting at the truce city of Panmunjom also represented a striking acknowledgement by Mr Trump of the authoritarian Mr Kim’s legitimacy over a nation with an abysmal human rights record.
As he stood beside Mr Kim, Mr Trump told reporters he would invite the North Korean leader to the United States, potentially even to the White House.
“I would invite him right now,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Kim, speaking through a translator, reciprocated that it would be an “honour” to invite Mr Trump to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang “at the right time”.
Mr Trump’s summit with Mr Kim in Vietnam earlier this year collapsed without an agreement for denuclearising the Korean Peninsula.
He became the first sitting US president to meet with the leader of the isolated nation last year, when they signed an agreement in Singapore to bring the North toward denuclearisation.
Substantive talks between the nations have largely broken down since the Vietnam summit.
The North has baulked at Mr Trump’s insistence that it give up its weapons before it sees relief from crushing international sanctions.
The US has said the North must submit to “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” before sanctions are lifted.
Every president since Ronald Reagan has visited the 1953 armistice line, except for George H.W. Bush, who visited when he was vice president.
After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2019
The show of bravado and support for South Korea, one of America’s closest military allies, has evolved over the years to include binoculars and bomber jackets.
Mr Trump kept to his blue suit and red tie, but ever the showman, sought to one-up his predecessors with a Kim meeting.
The leaders met at a time of escalating tensions.
While North Korea has not recently tested a long-range missile that could reach the US, last month it fired off a series of short-range missiles.
Mr Trump has brushed off the significance of those tests, even as his own national security adviser, John Bolton, has said they violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.