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27 Apr, 2018 00:28

Historic meeting between North & South Korea leaders kicks off (VIDEO)

Historic meeting between North & South Korea leaders kicks off (VIDEO)

The much-awaited summit between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in has begun in the "truce village" of Panmunjom. It is the first time the leaders of the two nations sat down for talks in over a decade.

The first inter-Korean summit since 2007, when Kim's late father Kim Il-sung met then-South Korean leader Roh Moo-hyun, is drawing all the eyes, coming ahead of the highly anticipated meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

North Korea's nuclear program, whose rapid advancement triggered belligerent threats from the US President, ramping up tensions in the peninsula to the boiling point in late 2017, is expected to dominate the Friday meeting, which is taking place less than a week after Pyongyang announced a freeze of all nuclear and missile exercises and a closure of a major test site.

The meeting is also of a high symbolic value. By crossing the South Korean border on foot to be greeted by Moon on the other side, Kim makes history, becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot on South Korean soil since the war between the two ended in 1953.

Kim and Moon shook hands at the demarcation line, smiling as they posed for photos. At one moment, the two leaders briefly stepped into the North Korean territory before coming back to the southern part of the border, where they were welcome by Korea’s National Guard.

Before a meeting behind closed doors began, Kim left a note in the guest book of the “peace house.”A new history starts now. An age of peace from the starting point of history,” it reads.

The summit caps several months of swiftly mounting tension followed by a cautious thaw. September 2017 saw North Korea's sixth and the most powerful nuclear test so far, as well as the test launch of a new type of long-range ballistic missile which it claimed can reach the US.

In response, South Korea and the US held a number of military drills on North Korea's shores. Trump threatened Pyongyang with "fire and fury" in August and later derided Kim as "a rocket man on a suicide mission." The war of words, as well as the shows of force, have since subsided, and Trump has swung to hailing "big progress" in North's denuclearization and calling Kim "very honorable and very open."

Friday's inter-Korean talks come in two rounds. After the first session, which kicked off at 10:30 local time [1:30 GMT], the two leaders are set to take lunch separately and then plant a pine tree on the border to serve as a "symbol of peace and prosperity." Making the move even more symbolic is the fact that the tree is planted with a mix of soil from the both countries' mountains and water from their rivers. The sapling itself dates back to 1953, the year when the armistice agreement was struck between the South and North.

Following the ceremony, Kim and Moon will resume talks, at the end of which they will sign a pact and make an announcement, according to the South's presidential chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, who revealed the details of the summit to the media.

As symbolically significant as the talks between the two Korean leaders are, Kim's next high-level meeting is seen as both much more important and much less predictable. Kim is set to hold talks with Donald Trump in either May or June. Trump repeatedly said that he was "looking forward" to meeting the North Korean leader, but warned that he might walk away from the talks if they do not live up to his expectations.