After shaking hands with Kim at the Panmunjom border village, Trump stepped across the military demarcation line separating the two Koreas. Kim then crossed the border back into South Korea.
“Good to see you again,” Kim told Trump. “I never expected to see you in this place.”
“Stepping across that line was a great honor,” said Trump, who invited Kim to the United States for another formal summit.
Trump on Saturday had said the meeting would only last two minutes. However, the interaction lasted longer than expected, with Trump and Kim entering a nearby building for further talks.
Trump, who visited the DMZ with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in, received a military briefing at a lookout point on the DMZ.
“It used to be dangerous, very very dangerous,” Trump said at the lookout point. “But after our first summit, all the danger went away.”
Trump also defended his North Korea policy and blasted media outlets that have questioned whether he should meet with Kim, given that talks with North Korea are stalled.
“I say for the press, they have no appreciation for what we’ve done,” Trump said.
Many hope a DMZ handshake could restart stalled nuclear talks, but many analysts warn such a meeting would only be a photo opportunity and risks further legitimizing Kim.
On Saturday Trump said he would have no problem setting foot in North Korea during his visit to the Panmunjom border village. If he does, he would be the first sitting U.S. president to do so.
Kim has not publicly responded to the invitation. North Korea’s vice foreign minister on Saturday called Trump’s offer an “interesting suggestion.”
It would be the third summit between Kim and Trump, following meetings in Singapore last June and in Vietnam in February. Whereas those meetings were held at hotels, Panmunjom would provide a much more dramatic setting.
With its iconic light-blue buildings that straddle the North-South border, Panmunjom is the only place along the 250-kilometer-long DMZ where North and South Korean soldiers can stand face-to-face.
Working-level talks stall
Since the meeting in Hanoi, North Korea has not responded to U.S. requests to resume working-level talks. North Korea is unhappy with the U.S. refusal to relax sanctions in exchange for limited steps to dismantle its nuclear program.
Given that neither side has publicly softened their negotiating position, progress may be unlikely for now.
“It’s hard to see much more coming out of this other than showing the world that Trump and Kim are still on speaking terms after Hanoi,” said Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Though international attention may focus on a possible Trump-Kim meeting at the DMZ, a key indicator of progress will be whether North Korea agrees to meet with Steve Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea.
U.S. officials, including Biegun, have given mixed signals about whether they are open to an incremental approach, whereby Pyongyang would give up its nuclear program in stages in exchange for reciprocal steps by Washington.
Trump wants Kim to agree to a “big deal,” under which Kim agrees to completely abandon his nuclear program.
The U.S. refusal to relax sanctions on North Korea has prevented South Korean President Moon from implementing inter-Korean projects.
“If Trump really wanted to send a signal to Kim that progress is still possible, he would cooperate with Seoul and allow for some of the inter-Korean economic cooperation to move forward,” says Jenny Town, a Korea specialist at the Stimson Center.
Moon on Sunday confirmed he would accompany Trump at the DMZ.
Will Kim show?
Some speculated that Kim wouldn’t show up at the DMZ to meet Trump.
“I think Kim has much more to gain with a no-show than showing up for another photo op, with nothing substantive gained,” says Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.
Instead, Lee speculated Kim would choose to have his sister Kim Yo Jong deliver a letter to Trump.
“Kim can dictate the terms and pace of engagement better with a no-show,” he says.
But Narang, the MIT professor, disagrees, saying Kim could exploit such a meeting to further bolster his reputation with his domestic audience.
“For Kim, the fact that Trump reached out — in some ways desperately on Twitter — may help him considerably at home,” Narang says.
Trump’s visit to the DMZ is an historic moment.
Though U.S. presidents frequently visit the DMZ during stops in South Korea, none has ever stepped across the border into North Korea. Though such a move is historic, it’s not clear what it means practically, some analysts warn.
“President Trump delights in doing things no president has done before,” says Bonnie Glaser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But for Trump, “a step inside North Korea might not signify any policy intentions whatsoever.”