North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a surprise appearance to welcome South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang for their third summit this year.
The leaders embraced while hundreds of North Korean waving flags and flowers cheered after Moon and his wife exited the plane that carried them from Seoul. Kim’s wife was by his side.
A military band played while soldiers marched as Kim and Moon watched from a platform. The leaders then walked toward the crowd as men and women cheered, some even crying.
It was an emotional start to a high-stakes summit. Moon faces the challenge of trying to get stalled U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks back on track while pressing for peace on the divided peninsula.
Moon, a former human rights attorney and the son of North Korean refugees, has called on Pyongyang and Washington to make “bold decisions,” and said he was hoping to have “heart-to-heart talks” with Kim during his three-day trip.
The direct flight carrying the president, accompanied by a delegation of more than 150 South Korean business leaders and officials, to Pyongyang took less than an hour. Moon’s departure from the plane was delayed, apparently to allow for Kim to make his entrance.
The men planned to hold at least two meetings during the three-day visit. It will be the first inter-Korean summit in the North Korean capital since 2007.
“What I want to achieve is peace – irreversible, permanent peace that is not disrupted by international politics,” he said Monday in remarks to senior advisers.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also spoke with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by phone on the eve of the trip.
“Both sides affirmed the strength of the U.S.-[South Korean] alliance and the importance to maintain pressure until we achieve the shared goal of final, fully verified denuclearization of [North Korea] as agreed by Chairman Kim,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
The South Korean foreign ministry also said the two diplomats agreed to work together to establish a peace regime on the peninsula.
Efforts to revive stalled U.S.-North Korean talks on the nuclear issue have risen to the top of the agenda between the two Korean leaders amid fears that continued deadlock may lead to new tensions between the longtime adversaries.
Washington reportedly wants the North to disclose the extent of its nuclear weapons program and insists it will maintain punishing economic sanctions and other pressure until a deal is reached.
Pyongyang says it already has taken important steps and should be rewarded along the way with eased sanctions and a formal declaration ending the 1950-53 war.
Reports citing U.S. intelligence officials and satellite images, meanwhile, have shown continued nuclear activity by the North, raising questions about Kim’s sincerity in vowing to give up his arsenal.
President Donald Trump canceled a planned trip to North Korea by Pompeo over the summer, citing insufficient progress in the months that followed his own historic June 12 summit with Kim, which was held in Singapore.
Moon said he will try “to find a middle ground” by focusing on easing military tensions and promoting nuclear dialogue between the United States and North Korea.
Earlier Monday, his office acknowledged the difficulties.
“Denuclearization is a pressing issue,” Chief Presidential Secretary Im Jong-seok told reporters in Seoul. “There are many expectations for great progress on the issue at the summit, but the prospects are very limited and it’s hard to have an optimistic view.”
Moon, 65, and Kim, believed to be 35, first met on April 27 in the truce village of Panmunjom, which straddles the heavily fortified border that has divided the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
He briefly stepped into North Korea during that symbolism-laden meeting, but he took his first real trip to the communist state Tuesday.
The Korean leaders also met in late May in Panmunjom.
South Korean business leaders, including Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, were accompanied Moon, underscoring hopes by the two Koreas to resume economic cooperation projects that are stalled because of the U.S.-led sanctions.
Both Koreas are eager for an end-of-war declaration, which would be a step toward a peace treaty. But Washington says the North must give up its nuclear weapons before that can happen.
That has raised concern that the North is trying to drive a wedge in the longtime U.S.-South Korean alliance, which includes the presence of some 28,500 American troops on the peninsula.
South Korean envoys who met with Kim last month said the North Korean leader wasn’t pushing for a U.S. withdrawal.
North Korea has suspended nuclear and missile tests, which were the focal point of tensions that prompted fears of a nuclear war last year.
It also moved to destroy its main nuclear testing site and to dismantle a key missile launch site.
But experts have said the moves are likely reversible without international inspections and verification.
Trump, meanwhile, promised Kim unspecified security guarantees and announced that he was suspending joint war games with the South following the Singapore summit.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.
© 2018 the Stars and Stripes
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.