In a historic summit more striking for its extraordinary images than its substance, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in set aside a year that saw them seemingly on the verge of war, grasped hands and strode together Friday across the cracked concrete marking the Koreas’ border.
The sight, inconceivable just months ago, may not erase their failure to provide any new measures on a nuclear standoff that has captivated and terrified millions, but it allowed the leaders to step forward toward the possibility of a cooperative future even as they acknowledged a fraught past and the widespread skepticism that, after decades of failed diplomacy, things will be any different this time.
On the nuclear issue, the leaders merely repeated a previous vow to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons, kicking one of the world’s most pressing issues down the road to a much-anticipated summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in coming weeks.
Still, the summit produced the spectacle of two men from nations with a deep and bitter history of acrimony grinning from ear to ear after Kim walked over the border to greet Moon, becoming the first leader of his nation to set foot on southern soil since the Korean War. Both leaders then briefly stepped together into the North and back to the South.
The summit marks a surreal, whiplash swing in relations for the countries, from nuclear threats and missile tests to intimations of peace and cooperation. Perhaps the change is best illustrated by geography: Kim and Moon’s historic handshake and a later 30-minute conversation at a footbridge on the border occurred within walking distance of the spot where a North Korean soldier fled south in a hail of gunfire last year, and where North Korean soldiers axe-murdered two U.S. soldiers in 1976.
Standing at a podium next to Moon after the talks ended, Kim faced a wall of cameras beaming his image live to the world and declared that the Koreas are “linked by blood as a family and compatriots who cannot live separately.” The leaders also vowed to achieve “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization,” something they’ve said before.