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Korean leaders: 'A new history starts now'

World

Smiling and holding hands, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have met at the heavily fortified demilitarised zone between the countries in the first summit for the two Koreas in over a decade.

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Moon grasped Kim’s hand and led him along a red carpet into South Korean territory, where school children placed flowers around their necks and an honour guard stood at attention for inspection.

Kim said he was ready for “heartfelt, sincere and honest” talks with Moon on pending issues and that the Koreas must not repeat the past where they were “unable to fulfil our agreements”.

He did not make any direct mention of the North Korean nuclear issue in the part of his talks with Moon that were shown on live television.

Kim also joked that he hoped Moon would enjoy North Korea’s famous cold noodles that will be brought to the banquet after the summit, saying it was difficult to bring the noodles from the capital Pyongyang.

He then turned to his sister sitting to his left and said “maybe I shouldn’t have said (Pyongyang) was far”.

Moon in response said there were high expectations surrounding the inter-Korean summit and that they produce an agreement that would please the people of Koreas and also “every peace-loving person in the world”.

Beyond the surface, however, it’s still not clear whether the leaders can make any progress in closed-door talks on the nuclear issue, which has bedeviled US and South Korean officials for decades.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests last year likely put it on the threshold of becoming a legitimate nuclear power. It claims it has already risen to that level.

Kim’s news agency said that the leader would “open-heartedly” discuss with Moon “all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula” in a “historic” summit.

It’s the first time one of the ruling Kim leaders has crossed over to the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone since the Korean War ended in 1953.

Two fifth-grade students from the Daesongdong Elementary School, the only South Korean school within the DMZ, greeted the leaders and gave them flowers.

Kim and Moon then saluted an honour guard and military band, and Moon introduced Kim to South Korean government officials. Kim returned the favour with the North Korean officials accompanying him.

They were to take a photo inside the Peace House, where the summit was to take place, in front of a painting of South Korea’s Bukhan Mountain, which towers over the South Korean Blue House presidential mansion.

Nuclear weapons will top the agenda, and Friday’s summit will be the clearest sign yet of whether it’s possible to peacefully negotiate those weapons away from a country that has spent decades doggedly building its bombs despite crippling sanctions and near-constant international opprobrium.

Expectations are generally low, given that past so-called breakthroughs on North Korea’s weapons have collapsed amid acrimonious charges of cheating and bad faith.

Advocates of engagement say the only way to get a deal is to sit down and see what’s possible.

North Korea may also be looking to use whatever happens in the talks with Moon to set up the Trump summit, which it may see as a way to legitimise its declared status as a nuclear power.

Kim and Moon will be enjoying each other’s company in the jointly controlled village of Panmunjom near the spot where a defecting North Korean soldier recently fled south in a hail of bullets fired by his former comrades.

-AP

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