A social media ask for a quick handshake turned historic Sunday when President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to step foot in North Korea during a meeting in the Demilitarized Zone with Kim Jong Un.
“Stepping across that line was a great honor,” Trump told the North Korean leader, adding that it was a “a great day for the world.”
Trump had said the duo would merely conduct a brief handshake, but they ultimately met for almost an hour. Afterward, Trump said each leader will provide a team of negotiators for talks aimed at persuading Kim to dismantle a nuclear weapons program that has kept the Korean Peninsula on edge for years.
Trump reaches out to Kim on Twitter
Trump suggested the meeting in a tweet on Thursday: “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”
Kim agrees to meeting
Trump, while still in Japan, said the Koreans had responded “very favorably” to his suggestion. On Sunday, Kim gave Trump props for reaching out. “I believe this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate all the unfortunate past and open a new future,” he said.
A photo opportunity, and maybe more
Cameras clicked and whirred as Trump, during a planned visit to South Korea, made his side trip to the DMZ for the handshake seen around the world. Kim asked Trump if he wanted to step into North Korea, and the duo took about 10 steps in the North. They then walked back before retreating to Freedom House for their private chat. They emerged with an agreement to kick-start talks that had seen little movement since their February summit in Vietnam.
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What happens now?
Foreign policy analysts said the border meeting won’t mean much unless it it leads to progress on a deal to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. “What matters is what is agreed to and actually happens,” tweeted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It is not the personal but policy that counts.” Harry Kazianis, with the D.C.-based Center for the National Interest, sounded a positive note, saying the meeting could “set the tone for … carving out a path toward lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Pope Francis prays for deal
Pope Francis praised the meeting in his weekly address at St. Peter’s Square, saying he prays that “such a significant gesture will be a further step on the road to peace, not only on that peninsula, but for the good of the entire world.”
We’ve been here before
The Hanoi summit fell apart after Trump rejected Kim’s calls for sanctions relief in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex, something that U.S. officials see as a partial denuclearization step. Kim has since fired missiles and other weapons into the sea. The duo also met a year ago in Singapore, but no deal emerged.
Nukes on the Korean Peninsula
North Korea withdrew from the global Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2003. Three years later the rogue state conducted the first of a half-dozen increasingly complex nuclear tests. In July 2017, North Korea conducted what was believed to be a successful test of an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile).
The price of militarization
Pyongyang’s military upgrades have come at a price – increasingly stiff economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. Trump has expressed a willingness to remove sanctions and provide economic aid if Kim is willing to end his nuclear program.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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