Asia-Pacific

'A great honour': Trump becomes first sitting US president to step into North Korea

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A historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has taken place - with the two men entering into North Korean territory alongside each other.

Donald Trump on Sunday stepped into North Korean territory, the first time a sitting US president has ever set foot in the former enemy country.

In a historic moment, Trump walked across the concrete blocks dividing North and South Korean territory in the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula, where the two sides fought each other to a standstill in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Donald Trump
The two leaders crossed into North Korea side by side.
AAP

"I just want to say that this is my honour," President Trump said alongside Kim Jong Un. "I didn't really expect it, we were in Japan for the G20. I came over and I said I want to meet Chairman Kim.

"We got to meet and stepping across that line was a great honour. A lot of progress has been made, a lot of friendships and this is a great friendship in particular." 

He added it was "a great day for the world".

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
AAP

The North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responded that his "wonderful" relationship with US President Donald Trump would enable the two longtime enemies to get over obstructions, with their nuclear talks at a stalemate.

"I am convinced our relationship will enable us to overcome barriers standing in the way," said Kim, adding as the two leaders held talks in the Demilitarised Zone that their close ties enabled a meeting to happen "just overnight".

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump said the meeting was a "great day for the world".
AAP

The unexpected encounter, only suggested a day earlier by Trump on Twitter, comes with negotiations over the North's nuclear program in stalemate since the leaders' last summit in Vietnam in February.

Accompanied by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, an earnest-looking Trump earlier toured an observation post overlooking North Korean territory, with a US military officer pointing out the sights. 

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after their meeting.
AAP

After the meeting, Trump told reporters: "This was a great day, very legendary, very historic day."

He added that negotiations would resume under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and that it was "not as complicated as people think".

"When I came into office, it was a fiery mess, bad things were going on. And the end of the other administration was nothing but trouble, that was all that was happening, and you do not report accurately, but that is OK.

"(On) Sunday, history will report accurately."

Donald Trump
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) walks with US President Donald J. Trump (C) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R).
AAP

Trump said teams from the US and North Korea would start meetings "over the next two or three weeks" for talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program.

Negotiators from the two sides will "start a process and we'll see what happens".

He also said he had extended an invite to Kim Jong Un to the White House but there was "no hurry".

"I said that at the right time you will come over, and we have a ways to go yet so we will see."

Earlier, South Korea President Moon Jae-in had confirmed a meeting would take place.

"The leaders of the US and North Korea will have a handshake for peace standing at Panmunjom, the symbol of division," Moon said, referring to the "truce village" in the DMZ.

US President Donald Trump said he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday to "just shake hands quickly".

"We're going to the DMZ border and I'll be meeting with Chairman Kim. I look forward to it very much. We've developed a very good relationship," Trump said, hailing a "certain chemistry" between the two leaders.

But he was "in no rush" when it came to tensions on the Korean peninsula, Trump said, and stressed the meeting would be short.

"Just shake hands quickly and say hello because we haven't seen each other since Vietnam," he said, referring to a summit that collapsed without an agreement in February.

"It's just a step and probably a step in the right direction," said Trump.

Donald Trump
South Korean people watch a broadcast of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump's visit to the Demilitarised Zone.
AAP

President Trump had extended an invitation to Kim on Saturday to coincide with his visit to South Korea after the G20 summit in Osaka. 

"Let's see what happens," the US President told business leaders in Seoul. "We are trying to work it out. It will be very short but that's OK. A handshake means a lot."

Their first meeting last year took place in a blaze of publicity, the first-ever encounter between a leader of the nuclear-armed North and a sitting US president, whose forces and their allies fought each other to a stalemate in the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) and US President Donald Trump speak during their talks at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) and US President Donald Trump speak during their talks at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul.
AAP

That summit produced a vaguely-worded pledge about denuclearisation, but a second meeting in Vietnam in February intended to put flesh on those bones broke up without agreement. 

Contact between the two sides has since been minimal - with Pyongyang issuing frequent criticisms of the US position - but the two leaders have exchanged a series of letters.

"If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!," Trump tweeted on Saturday from Osaka in Japan, where he was attending a G20 summit before flying to Seoul.

He later said he would have "no problem" stepping into the North with Kim - in what would be a dramatic re-enactment of the extraordinary scene last year when the young leader invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to walk over the Military Demarcation Line that divides the Koreas.

In an unusually fast and public response, within hours of Trump's tweet, the North's official KCNA news agency quoted Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui as saying the offer was "a very interesting suggestion" but that no official request had been received.

Koryo Tours, the market leader for Western tourism to the North, said the DMZ was closed to visitors on the northern side Sunday, in a potential sign of an official event.

North Korea's Kim Jong-un meets South Korea's Moon Jae-in in DMZ for historic peace talks
North Korea's Kim Jong-un meets South Korea's Moon Jae-in in DMZ for historic peace talks in 2018
Getty

But at talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in - who will be accompanying him to the DMZ - Trump cautioned: "It's very complicated from the standpoint of logistics and security and lots of other reasons but both teams are working very hard."

Moon - who seized on last year's Winter Olympics to broker the process between Pyongyang and Washington, after tensions soared in 2017 amid missile and nuclear tests and mutual insults - said Trump's invitation to Kim showed the "flower of hope was fully blossoming on the Korean Peninsula".

 

'Barren no man's land'

A meeting in the DMZ would make a powerful visual statement, but analysts were divided over its potential impact.

The four-kilometre-wide zone, running for 250km, is where the frontline lay when the Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty and is described as the world's last Cold War frontier.

John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul said an encounter in the "barren no man's land that embodies the unhealed wound of post-WWII division, the Korean War, and 70 years of animosity" would help improve ties.

"It's not just about denuclearisation and it's not all about a deal - important as those are," he said. "If Trump and Kim meet and can announce some kind of interim agreement, that's great. If they meet and don't, that's ok too. If in the end they don't meet, it's good that Trump offered to."

 

However, Robert Kelly of Pusan National University derided Trump's invitation as "emblematic of why the Trump NK effort is a farce: thrown-together; last-minute; made-for-TV".

It was driven by the US president's "lust for optics and drama rather than substance" and "a photo-op for the 2020 election", he tweeted.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un take a walk at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their Hanoi meeting in February.
AAP

The DMZ has been a regular stop for US presidents visiting the South, a security ally - although Trump's helicopter was forced to turn back by fog in 2017 - while Moon and Kim held their first two summits last year at Panmunjom, a "truce village" on the border.

The Hanoi meeting between Trump and Kim foundered amid disagreements on what the North - which has carried out five nuclear tests and developed missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland - would be willing to give up in exchange for relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy.

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