Korean handshake and the promise of peace in the world

courtesy BBC online

Kim Jong-un has pledged a “new history” in relations with his neighbour as he became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

In a moment rich with symbolism and pomp, South Korean leader Moon Jae-in and Mr Kim shook hands at the border.

Mr Kim said it was the “starting point” for peace, after crossing the military line that divides the peninsula.

It comes just months after warlike rhetoric from North Korea.

Much of what the summit will focus on has been agreed in advance, but many analysts remain sceptical about the North’s apparent enthusiasm for engagement.

The meeting – the first between Korean leaders in more than a decade – is seen as a step toward possible peace on the peninsula and marks the first summit of its kind for Mr Kim.

Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in walk through the DMZImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionIt is the first time Korean leaders have met in more than a decade

It carries promise for both Koreas with topics being discussed ranging from nuclear technology and sanctions to separated families, and is seen as an opportunity to foster economic co-operation.

“I feel that [we] have fired a flare at the starting point… the moment of writing a new history vis-à-vis peace, prosperity and North-South relations,” Mr Kim said ahead of talks with Mr Moon at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom.

“A new history begins now,” he also wrote in a guestbook.

The White House has expressed hope that the talks will achieve progress towards peace ahead a proposed meeting between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump in the coming weeks – an unprecedented move.

What about the nuclear issue?

Talks are likely to focus on reaching an agreement on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, which has advanced significantly since the last summit more than a decade ago.

Seoul has warned that a deal to rid Pyongyang of its nuclear weapons will be “difficult” to achieve.

Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in walk on a red carpet ahead of historic talksImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe leaders appeared at ease in their first face-to-face meeting

Mr Kim announced last week that he was suspending nuclear tests.

The move was welcomed by the US and South Korea, although Chinese researchers have indicated that North Korea’s nuclear test site may be unusable after a rock collapse following its last nuclear test.

As well as addressing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, the leaders are expected to discuss a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, as well as economic and social issues.

Few had predicted a development like this, as North Korea continued its nuclear and missile tests and stepped up its rhetoric through 2016 and 2017.Image copyrightEPAImage captionThe two leaders shake hands in front of Peace House in Panmunjom, South Korea

The rapprochement began in January when Mr Kim suggested he was “open to dialogue” with South Korea.

The following month the two countries marched under one flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

Mr Kim’s new appetite for diplomacy led to the key turning point, which was a meeting with senior South Korean officials in March, and after that came the announcement that Mr Kim would also meet Mr Trump.

The leaders were met by an honour guard in traditional costume on the South Korean side. The pair then walked to the Peace House in Panmunjom, a military compound in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between the two countries.

Korea map

The whole of South Korea stood still for the moment the leaders shook hands on both sides of the border in the DMZ.

Onlookers watched in surprise as Mr Kim invited the South Korean president to step briefly across the demarcation line into North Korea, before the pair stepped back into South Korea – all the while holding hands.

It was an apparently unscripted moment during a highly choreographed sequence of events.

The first session has broken up and the pair separated for lunch. Mr Kim returned to the North in a heavily guarded black limousine for lunch. Discussions were to resume in the afternoon.

Bodyguards run alongside a car carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as he returns to the North for a lunch break following a morning session of the inter-Korean summit in Panmunjom, 27 April 2018Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Kim returns to the North in a car surrounded by bodyguards

It was also punctuated by lighter moments. Mr Kim joked about bringing some of North Korea’s famous cold noodles for the summit.

“I hope you will really enjoy the noodles that we brought,” he said.

Every detail has been precisely planned, from the timetable to the dinner menu.

At an afternoon ceremony, the leaders will plant a pine tree using soil and water from both countries, to symbolise “peace and prosperity”.

South Koreas react while watching images of the inter-Korean summitImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMany South Koreans were overcome with emotion as they watched the historic moment live on television

The summit will conclude with the leaders signing an agreement and delivering a joint statement before dinner. The banquet will be held on the South’s side and the menu is as symbolic as the other rituals.

Mr Kim will be served the Swiss potato dish rösti – a nod to his time studying in Switzerland – along with the North’s signature dish of cold noodles, and a North Korean liquor.

Mr Kim is accompanied by nine officials, including his powerful and influential sister Kim Yo-jong.

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