Kim Jong Un made history when he became the first North Korean leader to cross the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone into South Korea on Friday morning.
Kim was met by South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of the historic inter-Korean summit set to take place throughout the day. The two leaders are expected to discuss the potential denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and efforts to forge a peace treaty between their countries.
Experts, however, remain skeptical about the meeting, with some warning that the North will not give up its nuclear arms easily.
As Kim crossed into the South, he shook hands with Moon before bringing his counterpart back over the border to the North for another handshake. They then held hands and crossed back into the South, where Kim was met with an honor guard.
A coterie of senior North Korean officials accompanied Kim, including his sister, Kim Yo-jong, who has become one of the most recognizable envoys from the North after her appearance at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The leaders then ventured into the South’s Peace House, which had been outfitted head to toe in custom furniture and artwork heavy with symbolism. Kim signed a guest book and the two leaders went in for negotiations.
“A new history begins now ― at the starting point of history and the era of peace,” Kim’s notation read, alongside his signature and the date.
Opening comments between the pair were cordial, with Kim cracking several jokes about noodles and even the early-morning missile launches conducted by North Korea in recent years.
“Today, I’m here with a mindset that I would fire a flare to kick-start a new history of peace, prosperity and better inter-Korean ties,” Kim said in his opening remarks to Moon. “I hope that we will have heart-to-heart conversations on issues of mutual interest, and bring about good results today.”
Moon responded with praise for his counterpart for helping turn the DMZ from “a symbol of division into one of peace.”
“I’d like to thank you for your brave decision to make this summit happen,” Moon said. “I hope that we have broad, frank talks today so that we can reach an agreement and produce what the peoples of our countries and the whole world dearly desire to see: Peace.”
The first round of talks broke promptly at noon, and the two leaders went to eat lunch separately. Kim was driven back to North Korea in a limousine as a dozen bodyguards in Western-style suits jogged next to the vehicle.
South Korean officials have expressed optimism ahead of the summit.
“I think the summit will be considered successful if we can clearly put into words North Korea’s clear intention to denuclearize,” Im Jong-seok, Moon’s chief of staff, told reporters on Thursday, according to The Washington Post.
Kim is expected to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump in the coming months, and Friday’s summit is poised to set the groundwork for those discussions.
Trump himself has toned down criticism of Kim in recent weeks and just days ago said the North Korean leader has been ‘very honourable’ going into the negotiations.
“We think that’s a great thing for the world,” Trump said. “We’re having … very good discussions. Kim Jong Un, he really has been very open and I think very honorable from everything we’re seeing.”