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Trump becomes first US president to enter North Korea

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP | North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walks with US President Donald Trump north of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea.

Donald Trump became the first US president to step onto North Korean soil Sunday as he met Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong-un in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), later confirming that nuclear talks would resume. And it all started with a tweet.

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President Donald Trump said Sunday that delegations from the US and North Korea would start meeting "over the next two or three weeks" for talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

Trump shared the news as he briefed reporters after spending about 50 minutes in talks behind closed doors with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump said he hopes the sides can reach a comprehensive deal, but says that "speed is not the object."

Trump claimed to reporters that, after his first meeting with Kim, "all of the danger went away."

Trump invites Kim to USA

The US president also said he would welcome the North Korean leader to Washington, saying he 'would invite him right now, to the White House'.

After shaking hands with Kim on Sunday over the line that marks where their two countries and their allies fought each other to a standstill in the 1950-53 Korean War, Trump walked for several steps into North Korean territory, before another handshake.

The two men then walked into Seoul's territory together -- pausing on the line for photographers -- where they were joined by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Moon praised the two leaders for "being so brave" to hold the meeting and said, "I hope President Trump will go down in history as the president who achieves peace on Korean Peninsula.

"It's a great day for the world and it's an honour for me to be here," Trump said. "A lot of great things are happening."

Twitter led to meeting

The impromptu meeting in the DMZ -- which came after Trump offered to meet Kim in the zone on Twitter Saturday – comes after negotiations came to a standstill between Pyongyang and Washington over the North's nuclear arsenal.

"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 from from Osaka in Japan, where he was attending a G20 summit before flying to Seoul.

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".

It was agreed the two would "just shake hands quickly and say hello because we haven't seen each other since Vietnam", Trump said earlier.

Before the meeting, Trump looked into North Korea from Observation Post Ouellette and was briefed on the North's extensive artillery across the border that threatens the 35 million residents of Seoul, just over two dozen miles away.

Blaze of publicity and tense talks

Their first summit took place in a blaze of publicity in Singapore last year but produced a vaguely-worded pledge about denuclearisation, and 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.

Dramatic moment

Trump's entry onto North Korean soil is 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.

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 -- will be going to the DMZ with Trump.

But analysts were divided over the headline-grabbing meeting's potential impact on the underlying issues.

The four-kilometre-wide (2.5 miles) DMZ, running for 250 kilometres, is where the front line 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 & 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."

Can progress really be achieved?

But Joshua Pollack of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies cast doubt on what it could achieve.

The Hanoi meeting foundered amid disagreements on what the North -- which has carried out six 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.

"An agenda-free, made-for-TV encounter won't undo a year of inflated expectations and disappointment," said Pollack.

What was needed, he added, was "something more than a one-page letter and another handshake".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)
 

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