Kim Jong Un took South Korean President Moon Jae In by the hand and led him into North Korea Friday, a spontaneous act that will probably come to define the historic first meeting between the two leaders.
The unscripted moment came just minutes after a a highly-choreographed vignette that saw Kim become the first North Korean leader to set foot on South Korean soil since before the start of the Korean War in 1950.
At the end of the first day, Kim and Moon embraced over a joint declaration announcing new common goals — the ”complete” denuclearization of the Peninsula and a formal end to the Korean War, turning the 1953 armistice into a peace treaty.
This will necessitate trilateral talks between the two countries and the U.S. or possibly four-way talks including China, a statement said.
“We've confirmed that denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is our common goal,” Moon said. “There will not be any more war on the peninsula.”
Read: Kim Jong-un could officially end North Korea's 68-year war with South Korea
Moments later Kim spoke to the media, saying: "It took a long time for the two Koreas to come together and hold hands together. The Korean people are the same people, with the same blood. We are compatriots.”
He added: "We would like to settle a permanent peace. Using one language, one culture, one history, North and South Korea will be joined as one nation.”
The historic meeting was marked by broad smiles, warm words and even jokes.
Kim, who bounded across the Demilitarized Zone without his entourage of aides and bodyguards, smiled broadly as he approached South Korean Moon who waited at the 50-centimeter wide slab of concrete that marks the border.
Kim greeted his counterpart, saying: “I can't stop feeling excited to meet in this historic place.”
Moon responded by saying it had been a “courageous decision” to cross the border. “No, it wasn’t,” Kim replied.
“As I walked over here, I thought 'why was it so difficult to get here?' The separating line wasn't even that high to cross,” Kim told Moon and the gathered officials. “It was too easy to walk over that line and it took us 11 years to get here.”
Kim’s spontaneous actions and emotional comments prompted headlines across the globe, something the North Korean leader would likely have anticipated.
“Kim is media savvy. He knows that this kind of unscripted move got media’s attention and would make him look cosmopolitan in front of a world audience,” Baohui Zhang, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, told VICE News.
A “new history”
After entering the renovated Peace House, Kim signed the guestbook: “New history starts from now, at the historic starting point of an era of peace.”
The leaders then spoke behind closed doors, holding “serious and honest discussions on ways to denuclearize the Peninsula, establish permanent peace and develop South-North Korea relations," a South Korean official said
After initial talks, Kim hinted at a future where people traveled freely between the two countries.
“We should value this opportunity so that the scars between the South and North could be healed. The border line isn’t that high; it will eventually be erased if a lot of people pass over it.”
Kim also joked about disturbing Moon’s sleep last year, when the South Korean leader had to convene a national security meeting after Pyongyang conducted a nuclear missile test.
“We won’t interrupt your early morning sleep anymore,” Kim said, reiterating an earlier promise to end the tests.
The pair separated for lunch, with Kim traveling back over the border in his black limousine flanked by 12 jogging bodyguards.
The pair took part in a ceremony after lunch, adding soil to a tree planted in 1953. A plague unveiled next to the tree read: “We plant peace and prosperity.”
They then spent half an hour speaking privately in the gardens before resuming the official summit. The leaders will renew their bromance this fall when Moon visits Pyongyang, the delegations announced at the end of the summit.
The delegations then held a 10-course banquet, which waw Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, join the festivities.
“My heart’s going to stop”
Large crowds gathered in Seoul to celebrate and watch events on a large TV screen installed on the east side of Seoul Square.
“I feel like my heart's going to stop. Words cannot describe how excited I am," a 73-year-old man, who came from the North Korean part of Gangwon Province and hasn't been home since the Korean War, told the Yonhap news agency. “I believe we can be freed from nuclear war threats, why shouldn't we imagine the day we take a train to our hometown?”
Even inmates in South Korean prisons were allowed to “join the nation for the historic moment of the South-North summit,” the South Korean justice ministry said in a statement.
In North Korea, however, there was no coverage of the summit during the evening news on state-run TV.
Abroad, there was cautious optimism.
Donald Trump tweeted that following “a furious year of missile launches and nuclear testing” some “good things are happening” but warned that “only time will tell.”
“I am very encouraged by what’s happening,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said, adding that he doesn’t want to be “over-optimistic at this point, but it is clearly good news that the two leaders are meeting. Absolutely.”
China’s foreign ministry also welcomed the sit-down, expressing “appreciation for the decisiveness and courage” displayed by both sides.
Conservative South Korean activists were less heartened, setting fire to North Korean flags during a rally against the talks near the summit.
There was also a tense moment when the two leaders met each other’s entourages. While the North Korean group gave Moon a full military salute, the South Korean military delegation preferring to meet Kim with a handshake.
Despite Kim’s relaxed outward appearance, his paranoia remained in tact. Before he stepped into Peace House and signed the guestbook, two North Korean officials sprayed the chair at the signing desk with sanitizer, along with the guestbook and the pen.
They then swept the area with electronic gear to check for explosives or recording devices, according to a South Korean official speaking to NPR.
What has been achieved?
For all the bonhomie and apparent friendship on display, it is still unclear if anything substantive has been achieved.
“The whole peace process depends on whether Kim will give up his nuclear weapons,” Zhang says. “However, what if he doesn’t?”
Despite the pair signing a declaration agreeing to denuclearization, there is no real guarantee it will happen, with experts warning that Kim is unlikely to give up the arsenal he has worked so hard to develop.
Van Jackson, a former policy adviser to the U.S. secretary of defense who focuses on Asia, believes the summit is symbolic and exciting to watch, but is just a momentum builder for the North’s upcoming talks with Donald Trump.
“It’s great to have good vibes going into the Trump summit, but you need to put emotion aside and wonder what this means on the question of nukes, which is not much,” Jackson told the Guardian. “Kim says he wants peace and denuclearisation, but what that means to him won’t be acceptable to South Korea or the US.”
Cover image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in cross the military demarcation line for the Inter-Korean Summit April 27, 2018 in Panmunjom, South Korea. (Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images)