Written by Peter Baker and Michael Crowley (Choe Hang-sun contributed reporting.)
President Donald Trump became the first US president to set foot in North Korea on Sunday as he greeted Kim Jong Un, the country’s leader, at the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that has divided the peninsula for more than six decades.
Trump stepped across the border and was met by a beaming Kim as the two shook hands and patted each other’s backs in an encounter carried live on international television for an unprecedented, camera-friendly demonstration of friendship intended to revitalize stalled nuclear talks.
“Big moment, big moment, big progress,” Trump said.
Kim praised the US president for his “courage” in making the visit.
A showman by nature and past profession, Trump delighted in the drama of the moment, the first time U.S. and North Korean leaders have gotten together at the line bristling with concertina wire and weapons where heavily armed forces have faced off across a tense divide for 66 years since the end of fighting in the Korean War.
The encounter was nothing more than a brief greeting, not a formal negotiation, and did nothing concrete to bridge the enormous gap between the two sides over the fate of North Korea’s nuclear program. Since talks broke down in Hanoi, Vietnam, four months ago, there has been no progress, and neither side on Sunday disclosed any plans for how to move forward beyond the handshake.
But Trump gambled that the show of amity could crack the logjam and open the way to further talks, underscoring his faith in the power of his personal diplomacy to achieve what has eluded presidents in the past. More than halfway through his term, Trump is eager for a resolution to the long-standing nuclear dispute, seeing it as signature element of the legacy he hopes to forge.
Kim accepted Trump’s unorthodox invitation, posted on Twitter just a day earlier, and both sides scrambled to manage the logistics and security required for such a get-together. Trump was already scheduled to make an unannounced visit to the DMZ during his trip to South Korea, and while he portrayed the idea of meeting with Kim while there as a spontaneous one on Saturday, he had actually been musing out loud about it for days in advance.