President Trump made history on Sunday by becoming the first sitting U.S. president to cross into North Korea, a symbolic gesture toward Kim Jong Un during a meeting at the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in which the two leaders agreed to restart stalled nuclear talks.
Trump and Kim afterward spoke privately for more than 50 minutes, turning what was supposed to be a brief exchange of pleasantries into a negotiating session in which Trump said they both agreed to “designate a team” and “work out some details” in his on-again, off-again effort to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
“Speed is not the object. We want to see if we can do a really comprehensive, good deal,” Trump told reporters. “This was a great day. This was a very legendary, very historic day.”
“It’ll be even more historic if something comes up, something very important,” the president added.
Trump’s meeting with Kim was his first since nuclear talks broke down at a February summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. Major doubts still surround the negotiations and Kim’s willingness to surrender his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
But Trump was determined to show the public he can secure a nuclear deal with North Korea, which would be his biggest achievement on the world stage.
It came days after he agreed at the Group of 20 summit to reopen trade talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, pressing to secure another elusive deal and show voters he can be the dealmaker in chief ahead of his 2020 reelection race.
The history-making moment came at 3:45 p.m. Korea time, when Trump and Kim shook hands across a concrete slab that forms the line separating the North and South. At Kim’s request, Trump stepped over the line, and the two men walked back toward a plaza in the North, where they posed for photos.
“Good to see you again,” Kim said to Trump, according to a translator. “I never expected to see you in this place.”
“Good progress. Good progress,” Trump said as he and Kim crossed back into South Korea.
“Stepping across that line was a great honor,” Trump said, adding that he would invite Kim to visit the White House.
The image-conscious Trump framed the gesture as a rebuttal to critics who say he will not be able to secure a deal with Kim.
“You don’t report it accurately, but that’s OK. Some day, history will record it accurately,” he said.
Trump and Kim met at the Freedom House on the South Korean side of the DMZ, where the North Korean leader said he was “willing to put an end to the unfortunate past.”
Kim said he was “surprised” when Trump made the invitation by tweet on Saturday but hailed the importance of the meeting as a sign of the “excellent relations between the two of us.”
“You hear the power of that voice” Trump said, adding that the North Korean leader “doesn’t do news conferences.”
“This is a historic moment, the fact that we’re meeting,” he added.
Trump later told U.S. troops at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, that he noticed that “many people … from Korea were literally in tears” when he crossed the DMZ but did not cite specific examples.
He also said during brief remarks to reporters that sanctions against Pyongyang remain in place but that “at some point during the negotiations things can happen.”
In a tweet before leaving South Korea, Trump described his meeting with Kim as “wonderful,” adding that standing on North Korean soil was “an important statement for all.”
Despite the historic nature of Trump’s visit to the Korean Peninsula, the outcome essentially got the U.S. and North Korea back to the same place they were before talks broke down four months ago.
The Hanoi summit collapsed when Trump refused to accept Kim’s offer of sanctions relief in exchange for shuttering the North’s largest nuclear facility. Washington is looking for far greater concessions from Pyongyang, including a full accounting of their nuclear stockpile, comprehensive inspections and eventually the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Before and during his trip to Asia, Trump had repeatedly hinted about the possibility of meeting with Kim.
The two leaders recently resumed contact. Trump said he received what he called a “beautiful letter” from Kim this month containing birthday greetings. In return, the president sent Kim a thank-you note and letter.
Trump first publicly suggested the possibility of a brief greeting with Kim at the DMZ in a tweet Friday.
In an exclusive interview with The Hill on Monday, Trump said he would be visiting the DMZ and that he “might” meet with Kim. The Hill delayed publishing news of the trip earlier in the week at the request of the White House, which cited security concerns about publicizing the president’s plans that far in advance.
Trump said Saturday that the North Korean leader was open to a meeting, but the president noted potential logistical challenges could prevent it from taking place.
Sunday’s meeting with Kim came after bad weather blocked Trump’s attempt to make a surprise visit to the DMZ in November 2017.
Trump considered meeting Kim there in 2018 before deciding to hold the first summit between the two leaders in Singapore.