Kim Jong-un Crosses Into Demilitarized Zone for Historic Korea Talks
SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong Un on Friday became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korean-controlled territory, starting a historic summit meeting with the South’s president that will test Kim’s willingness to bargain away his nuclear weapons.
Kim’s decision to cross into the world’s most heavily armed border zones, a prospect that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago, was broadcast live in South Korea, where all eyes and ears are focused on the intentions of the North’s 34-year-old leader.
For South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, who has placed himself at the center of diplomacy to end the nuclear standoff with the North, the meeting presents a formidable task: finding a middle ground between a cunning enemy to the North and an impulsive ally in the United States.
The historic encounter at the Peace House, a conference building on the South Korean side of the border village of Panmunjom, could set the tone for an even more critical meeting planned between Kim and President Donald Trump.
On Friday morning, Kim emerged from Panmungak, a North Korean administrative building inside Panmumjom. He walked down the steps toward the border line, where Moon was waiting. The two Korean leaders smiled and shook hands across a low, 20-inch-wide concrete slab that marks the border bisecting Panmunjom.
Then, Mr. Kim stepped across the border.
After the two leaders posed for photos, they crossed briefly into the North’s territory. They then stepped backed into South Korean territory, holding hands. They walked down a red carpet, inspected a South Korean military honor guard and entered the Peace House.
“I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying during the meeting, according to Mr. Moon’s spokesman, Yoon Young-chan. Mr. Moon suggested they hold more meetings, and Mr. Kim said he would visit South Korea’s presidential Blue House “if the president invites me.”
While Moon’s meeting with Kim on Friday — their first face-to-face talk — is rich with symbolism, Kim is not expected to capitulate on Trump’s key demand: total and immediate nuclear disarmament.
Moon’s other challenge, with Trump, turns on how best to deal with North Korea and its leader — who is expected to meet with Trump in the next few months.
The South Korean president favors an action-for-action strategy in which the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and is rewarded for each move with economic benefits and security guarantees. South Korean officials said that the entire process could take about two years.
Trump’s national security team, by contrast, has insisted that North Korea must scrap its weapons programs before any relief from the sanctions that isolate the nation can be granted. And they say that “substantial dismantlement” should be completed much more quickly, perhaps in six months.
Moon sees himself less as a negotiator with Kim and more as a mediator shuttling between two men who believe that keeping others guessing gives them an edge: a volatile U.S. president with no experience in nuclear negotiations, and a hotheaded young North Korean leader with no experience on a global stage.
“What we can do is to try to help the North and the United States reach an agreement, helping them narrow their differences and seeking and presenting practical ideas both sides can accept,” Moon said recently, adding that he may have only one shot to get it right. “This is an opportunity that will not come again.”
The challenge is stark. No nation that has openly tested a nuclear device has ever surrendered its arsenal, and North Korea has conducted six underground explosions, each more powerful than the last, and has test-fired missiles that can reach the mainland United States.
But Trump and Kim have both already defied conventional wisdom about what is possible. If they meet in June — most likely in Singapore, according to U.S. and South Korean officials — it would be the first direct encounter between the leaders of the two nations, as well as a chance to test the argument that making progress with North Korea in the nuclear standoff requires starting at the top.
The meeting between Kim and Moon is the third summit meeting between leaders of the two countries, but the first in which denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula tops the agenda.
Moon hopes to emerge from Friday’s summit meeting with a formal but vague denuclearization commitment from Kim and perhaps a path to negotiating a peace treaty or a plan to reduce military tensions. Some have suggested a pullback of troops from the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is possible.
“I find it impossible to believe that Kim is prepared to give up what his father and his grandfather bequeathed to him,” said Gary Samore, a veteran of negotiations with North Korea as the top arms control aide in the Clinton and Obama administrations, speaking at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
“我很难相信金正恩准备放弃他父亲和祖父留给他的东西，”加里·萨莫尔(Gary Samore)在首尔的峨山政策研究院(Asan Institute for Policy Studies)说。他是对朝谈判方面的老手，曾在克林顿和奥巴马政府任最高军控助手。
But he added that Kim “may now calculate he has enough of a nuclear arsenal” — and so can afford to put more on the table than in the past.
One possibility that causes consternation in the region is that Trump will settle for dismantling North Korea’s small fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles, eliminating its ability to strike the United States — but leaving South Korea and Japan vulnerable. “It would be the ‘America First’ way,” Samore said, referring to Trump’s campaign slogan.
If skepticism is rampant in Washington, the Moon administration is somewhat more optimistic. To South Korean policymakers, Kim’s recent decisions suggest that he is willing to trade his nuclear arsenal for economic growth, which the young leader may see as necessary to preserving his rule for decades. They also argue Trump’s threats of military action have proved more effective at changing Kim’s calculations than anticipated.
South Korean officials say they have spent far more time and energy coordinating with the Trump administration before the Friday summit meeting than with the North Koreans, an effort complicated by the White House shake-up that included the departure of Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and the firing of Rex W. Tillerson as secretary of state.
韩国官员表示，在周五的首脑会晤前，他们花在与特朗普政府周旋上的时间和精力比花在朝鲜人身上的还多，而且由于美国国家安全顾问H·R·麦克马斯特中将(Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster)的离开和国务卿雷克斯·W·蒂勒森(Rex W. Tillerson)被解雇，事情变得更为复杂。
The focus on Washington also reflects concern about McMaster’s successor, John R. Bolton, who joined the administration after arguing for military strikes to destroy North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, ridiculing South Korean leaders as “putty in North Korea’s hands.”
华盛顿受到的关注反映出了人们对麦克马斯特的继任者约翰·R·博尔顿(John R. Bolton)的担忧。在加入政府之前，他就主张用军事打击来摧毁朝鲜的核武库，还嘲讽韩国领导人“任由朝鲜摆布”。
One area of consensus is an attempt to more clearly establish the talks’ desired outcome from the outset, giving all parties greater incentive to move forward. Previous negotiations were open-ended, without specific goals that everyone agreed on.
South Korea and the United States also want to push the North to accept a timetable that would move quickly from the suspension of weapons tests — which it announced last week — to the dismantlement of its nuclear program. Some in the Trump administration have argued for completion in six months, but that may be an opening negotiating position given the challenges involved.
Bolton has occasionally cited the example of Libya, which shipped most of its nuclear equipment to a U.S. weapons lab in Tennessee over the course of several weeks in late 2003. But much of that equipment was still in crates; there was little to dismantle.
Iran took a bit more than six months to take apart much of its program and ship 97 percent of its nuclear material from the country. But, like Libya, it had not yet built nuclear weapons.
North Korea is believed to have 20 to 60 such weapons — U.S. intelligence agencies cannot agree on the number — in addition to a vast infrastructure of fuel production and weapons manufacturing facilities, much of it hidden in the mountains or underground. Samore argued that the North should be asked to hand over an inventory that the United States and its allies could compare with intelligence reports and seek to verify. That process would offer a first sign of whether Kim is coming clean, but could take years to complete.