South Korea — President Trump met Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea on Sunday, and briefly crossed into North Korea, marking the first time a sitting U.S. president had done that since an armistice was signed at the end of the Korean War 66 years ago.
The two men shook hands and Kim then invited Trump to become the first U.S. president to cross into North Korea. They stayed a few minutes then both crossed back into South Korea.
“Good to see you,” Kim said. “I never expected to see you in this place.”
Kim said the very fact of them meeting had a lot of significance.
“We want to bring an end to our unpleasant past and bring in a new future, so this is a very courageous and determined act,” he said. “This handshake of peace itself serves to demonstrate that today is different from yesterday. ”
Trump said it was an honor to meet Kim and to cross into North Korea.
“A lot of really great things are happening, tremendous things,” he said. “We met and we liked each other from Day One, and that was very important.”
The two men then met with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, before adjourning for talks in the Inter-Korean House of Freedom, on the southern side of the border.
Sitting down before the private talks began, Kim again underlined the importance of the meeting. “I hope it can be the foundation for better things that people will not be expecting,” he said.
“Our great relationship will provide the magical power with which to overcome hardships and obstacles in the tasks that needs to be done from now on.”
Earlier, Trump also spoke warmly of Kim.
“We’ve developed a very good relationship and we understand each other very well. I do believe he understands me, and I think I maybe understand him, and sometimes that can lead to very good things.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the meeting a historic moment in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.
Trump’s trip to South Korea comes four months after the breakdown of his second summit with Kim in Hanoi, and it remains to be seen if Sunday’s meeting will set the stage for more substantive talks.
Trump had broadcast his offer to meet Kim at the border in a morning tweet in Osaka, Japan, at the Group of 20 summit on Saturday. A senior North Korean official responded soon after that the offer was “interesting.”
Whether the meeting was really arranged in just 24 hours remains open to question — the two men also exchanged letters earlier this month — but Trump said the idea had simply occurred to him on Saturday.
“Yesterday I was just thinking ‘I am here, let’s see whether or not we can say hello to Kim Jong Un,’” he said. “I put the word out and he got back and wanted to do it from the beginning and so did I.”
It was not clear if Moon would join the two men for their private talks. Only last week, North Korea’s foreign ministry said it did not want Seoul mediating, and told South Korean authorities to “mind their own business at home.”
In any case, Moon earlier made it clear he would be taking a back seat role on Sunday.
“I will come along but the center of today’s conversation is the dialogue between North Korea and the United States,” Moon said. “I hope there would be a big progress in the dialogue between President Trump and Chairman Kim.”
Moon, who has invested heavily in improving his country’s relationship with North Korea, also praised Trump effusively for reaching out to Kim, and said Sunday’s meeting would be “a very historic and great moment for the Korea Peninsula peace process.”
“Yesterday, President Trump gave a big hope to the world through his tweet,” he said. “Seeing that tweet made me feel that the flower of peace is blossoming on the Korean Peninsula.”
In remarks to the media on Sunday, Trump repeatedly congratulated himself for calming tensions on the Korean Peninsula, arguing that the region would have been engulfed in war if he had not been elected president.
“We are in much different place than we were two and a half years ago,” he said, adding he found “insulting” that the press could say otherwise. “Let’s what happens in the end, but we are doing well.”
At the DMZ, he again attacked the media for its coverage, saying this place used to be “very dangerous” but that is was much less so since his first summit with Kim in Singapore.
“I say that for the press. They have no appreciation for what is being done, none,” he insisted.
“There was great conflict here prior to our meeting in Singapore,” he added. “After our first summit, all of the danger went away.”
Trump earlier pointed to the fact that North Korea has ceased nuclear tests, and that tensions have eased between the two countries, but he also misrepresented what had been achieved, claiming that North Korea had ceased ballistic missile tests and was continuing to send back remains of U.S. servicemen killed in the Korean War.
In fact, North Korea has tested short-range ballistic missiles since the Hanoi summit, while the Pentagon says contacts with Pyongyang over the return of remains have ceased.
Critics say Trump actually inflamed tensions dangerously in the first months of his presidency, but has now gone so far the other way he is rapidly legitimizing North Korea as a nuclear weapons state and letting Kim off the hook for his massive human rights violations in one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.
“At the beginning there was a lot of anger between myself and Kim Jong Un,” Trump said. “Something happened, there was a point at which it happened and all of a sudden you get along.”