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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The leaders of the two Koreas on Friday morning shared a historic greeting along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) at the Panmunjom Peace Village as the first inter-Korean summit in over ten years began.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in front of the meeting rooms of the Military Armistice Commission at around 0930 local time.
The two leaders shared a brief conversation.
Kim Jong Un then crossed into the Southern side, the first time a North Korean leader sets foot on South Korean territory since the end of the Korean War.
The DPRK leader then beckoned Moon to briefly cross to the Northern side of the MDL, and Moon briefly stepped over the line before the two went South.
President Moon left the Blue House for Panmunjom at around 0806 local time without issuing a statement.
The South Korean President was seen getting out of his car on his way to Panmunjom and shaking hands with supporters on a street nearby.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim, whose official title – among others – is chairman of the DPRK State Affairs Commission left Pyongyang early on Friday morning “for the historical north-south summit meeting and talks.”
KCNA reported the summit would be held in South Korean territory “for the first time in the history of the nation’s division.”
“Kim Jong Un will open-heartedly discuss with Moon Jae In all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula,” KCNA reported in an English-language report.
State-run media also shared the schedule of Friday’s meeting, reporting Kim was due to cross the MDL at 0900 DPRK time, plant a commemorative tree with Moon, “make public results of the historic Panmunjom talks,” and attend a welcoming banquet hosted by the South Korean President.
After Moon and Kim attended a welcoming ceremony, the two leaders moved to the Peace House for a conversation at the reception room, and will begin the morning session of the summit at 1015 local time.
The two leaders will then hold separate luncheons and take a rest, before continuing their schedule in the afternoon. Both are due to plant a pine tree representing peace and prosperity on the MDL.
Kim and Moon will sign an agreement and make a joint announcement following the second round of talks, but Presidential Spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom Friday morning said the venue and the style of the announcement will be determined by the content of the agreement.
Speaking at the morning briefing, Kim also said the presence of ROK First Lady Kim Jung-sook and DPRK First Lady Ri Sol Ju at the banquet hasn’t yet been decided.
The summit will end with the two leaders watching a video themed “A New Spring Enjoyed Together” at the farewell ceremony.
Seoul on Thursday announced that the North Korean leader will today be accompanied by a delegation of nine DPRK officials – including his sister Kim Yo Jong.
Also among the delegation are President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) Kim Yong Nam, DPRK foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, chairman of the DPRK’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Ri Son Gwon, and vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the WPK and chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee Choe Hwi.
Friday’s summit is the first meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas in over a decade and the third in history – following meetings between DPRK leader Kim Jong Il and ROK President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 and between Kim Jong Il and ROK President Roh Moo-hyun in 2007.
It also comes following a year of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula provoked, in part, by repeated ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang.
U.S. President Donald Trump, too, was widely seen as raising the risk of conflict on the peninsula with claims that North Korea could expect “fire and fury” if it continued provocations and that the U.S. would “totally destroy” the DPRK should it threaten Washington or its allies.
But the New Year saw tensions cool, as Kim Jong Un in his New Year’s Speech said he would seek to send DPRK athletes to the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics in the South.
That speech led to high-level talks between the two Koreas – the first since 2015 – and the reopening of some communications channels between Pyongyang and Seoul.
The following months then saw two high-level North Korean delegations visit the South: the first at which Moon Jae-in was invited to meet with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang.
But at a visit by a South Korean delegation to the DPRK capital in early March – at which Kim Jong Un reportedly expressed his willingness to denuclearize in exchange for security guarantees – it was agreed the two leaders would instead meet at Panmunjom.
That ROK delegation then headed to Washington, where it was announced that U.S. President Donald Trump had accepted an invitation from the North Korean leader for an unprecedented DPRK-U.S. summit.
While President Trump has said he hopes the meeting will take place as soon as possible, the Kim-Trump summit is expected to take place in late May or early June.
This planned meeting raises the stakes for Friday’s summit, with the two leaders widely expected to discuss North Korean denuclearization and Moon Jae-in under pressure to secure an on-the-record commitment from Kim Jong Un to negotiate his nukes.
Seoul has said the issue is top of the agenda, though pre-summit details on what exactly is planned are sketchy: head of the summit organizing committee Im Jong-seok told press on Thursday that the scope of any denuclearization agreement could only be determined when the two leaders actually meet.
South Korea, however, has high hopes for the meeting, with NK News reporting on Thursday that the government has slashed significant public funds on a campaign marketing the summit’s “Peace, A New Start” slogan.
The two Koreas are also expected to discuss other issues of mutual concern, including means to de-escalate military tensions and humanitarian affairs.
Featured image: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps