Kim Jong-un has become the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
In a moment rich with symbolism and pomp, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un shook hands at the border.
Kim Jong-un said it was the “starting point” for peace, after crossing the military line that divides the peninsula. He also pledged a “new history” in relations with his neighbor.
His visit comes just months after warlike rhetoric from North Korea.
Much of what the summit will focus on has been agreed in advance, but many analysts remain skeptical about North Korea’s apparent enthusiasm for engagement.
Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in were met on April 27 by an honor guard in traditional costume on the South Korean side. The leaders walked to the Peace House in Panmunjom, a military compound in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries.
The North Korean leader then invited the South Korean president to step briefly across the demarcation line into North Korea, before the pair stepped back into South Korea – all the while holding hands.
It was an apparently unscripted moment during a highly choreographed sequence of events.
When the first session ended, the pair separated for lunch and Kim Jong-un returned to North Korea in a heavily guarded black limousine.
When he returned in the afternoon, the leaders took part in a ceremony consisting of the planting of a pine tree using soil and water from both countries.
Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in shoveled soil on the roots of the tree and unveiled a stone marker featuring their names, official titles and a message that read: “Planting peace and prosperity.”
The Korean summit will conclude with the leaders signing an agreement and delivering a joint statement before dinner. The banquet will be held on South Korea’s side and the menu is as symbolic as the other rituals.
According to local sources, Kim Jong-un will serve Swiss potato dish rosti – a nod to his time studying in Switzerland – along with North Korea’s signature dish of cold noodles, and North Korean liquor.
Kim Jong-un is accompanied by nine officials, including his powerful and influential sister Kim Yo-jong.
The Korean meeting – the first between Korean leaders in more than a decade – is seen as a step toward possible peace on the peninsula and marks the first summit of its kind for Kim Jong-un.
The summit carries promise for both Koreas with topics being discussed ranging from nuclear technology and sanctions to separated families, and is seen as an opportunity to foster economic co-operation.
Ahead of talks with President Moon at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom, Kim Jong-un said: “I feel that [we] have fired a flare at the starting point… the moment of writing a new history vis-à-vis peace, prosperity and North-South relations.”
He also wrote in a guestbook: “A new history begins now.”
The White House has expressed hope that the talks will achieve progress towards peace ahead a proposed meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump in the coming weeks – an unprecedented move.
Talks are likely to focus on reaching an agreement on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has advanced significantly since the last summit more than a decade ago.
South Korea has warned that a deal to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons will be “difficult” to achieve.
Kim Jong-un announced last week that he was suspending nuclear tests.
The move was welcomed by the US and South Korea, although Chinese experts have indicated that North Korea’s nuclear test may be unusable after a rock collapse following its last nuclear test.
As well as addressing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in are expected to discuss a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War, as well as economic and social issues.
The launch comes on the eve of a visit by China’s President Xi Jinping to the US to meet President Donald Trump.
The two will discuss how to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea is banned from any missile or nuclear tests by the UN, though has repeatedly broken those sanctions.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the launch as “yet another” intermediate range ballistic missile, adding: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”
The US military’s Pacific Command said it appeared to have been a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile.
“The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” it said.
Japan called the launch “provocative”, while South Korea condemned it as “a blunt challenge” to the UN and “a threat to the peace and safety of the international community as well as the Korean peninsula”.
Last month, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles towards the Sea of Japan from the Tongchang-ri region, near the border with China.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it a “new stage of threat”.
Last week, the US Treasury slapped sanctions on 11 North Korean business representatives and one company.
On April 4, US politicians overwhelmingly backed a bill relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terror.
North Korea responded by warning that it will retaliate if the international community steps up sanctions, saying the US was forcing the situation “to the brink of war”.
North Korea and South Korea have begun talks on resuming the reunions of families separated by the Korean War in 1950-53.
Korean Red Cross officials met at the border village of Panmunjom in an attempt to restart the reunions last held in October 2010.
The two sides remain technically at war because the conflict ended in an armistice and not a peace deal.
The talks come as the two countries last week reached a deal on a joint industrial zone.
Many families were separated at the end of the war by the dividing of the peninsula.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye last week called for the resumption of the reunions, urging North Korea to “open its heart”.
The aim is for some of them to meet during a festival holiday in September.
North Korea and South Korea have begun talks on resuming the reunions of families separated by the Korean War in 1950-53
However, the two sides have yet to agree on the venue, size and date of the possible reunions.
In South Korea, than 70,000 people have registered for the reunions.
Kim Kyung-ryun said that she had been trying for decades to reunite with her parents and siblings in the North.
“So many reunions have passed, and I’ve never been picked,” she said.
“So I wonder whether my chance will ever come, and I’m just a bit too tired to worry about it now.”
The current talks are the latest signs of tensions easing on the peninsula.
In April, North Korea withdrew its workers from the Kaesong joint industrial zone, angered by the expansion of UN sanctions after its February 12 nuclear test and annual US-South Korea military drills.
The deal reached last week came after six rounds of talks ended unsuccessfully.
Meanwhile, it was reported that a North Korean man apparently defected after he was found on South Korea’s Gyodong Island.
It was not immediately known how he had crossed the border in stormy weather. South Korean officials said he was now being questioned.
Defections by crossing the border via land and sea is said to be rare, and most are made by North Koreans entering another country before going to South Korea.
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