The leaders of North Korea and the U.S. on Sunday agreed to restart working-level discussions on denuclearization, U.S. President Donald Trump told press following a meeting with Kim Jong Un at the Panmunjom peace village.
Speaking just minutes after the DPRK leader crossed back into North Korean territory following 50-minutes of talks with the U.S. President, Trump praised what he said had been “a very very good meeting with Chairman Kim.”
“We’ve agreed that we’re each going to designate a team, and the team will try and work out some details,” he said, stressing that “speed is not the object.”
“We want to see if we can do a really comprehensive good deal,” the President continued. “Nobody knows how things turn out, but certainly this was a great day, this was a very legendary very historic day.”
The two leaders, he said, “agreed to have teams set up” to continue diplomacy, to be chosen by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Special Representative for North Korea policy Stephen Biegun.
“What’s going to happen is over the next two or three weeks the teams are going to start working to see whether or not they can do something,” Trump said, describing the issues set to be under discussion as “pretty complicated but not as complicated as people think.”
Kim and Trump met and shook hands at the military demarcation line (MDL) dividing the two Koreas around 1545 local time.
Trump then crossed over into the North Korean side, becoming the first U.S. President in history to step foot in DPRK territory.
Asked about the decision, Trump told reporters after the meeting that “I said ‘would you like me to come across,’ he said ‘I would be so honored’ and that’s the way it worked out.”
“From what I understand this is the… first time that something like that has happened,” he said. “I didn’t know really what he was going to say but it was my honor to do it. We had a very good meeting.”
The meeting was the first between the leaders of North Korea and the U.S. since February, when a summit between the two in Hanoi fell apart amid disagreement over sanctions.
It followed months of diplomatic stalemate between Pyongyang and Washington, seemingly broken just last week by news that Kim Jong Un had received a letter from the U.S. President and a China-DPRK summit in the North Korean capital.
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One North Korea watcher described the timing of Sunday’s meeting as “curious.”
“This impromptu U.S.-DPRK summit took place just a week after Chinese President Xi made his first trip to Pyongyang for a summit there,” Peter Ward, a PhD candidate at the University of Vienna and a writer and researcher on the North Korean economy, said.
Another expert told NK News that Sunday’s talks suggested a growing flexibility on the part of both Pyongyang and Washington.
“I think Kim must have given Trump the sense that Pyongyang was ready to talk details on denuclearization, and that they understand that this can only move forward at the working-level,” Andray Abrahamian, a Koret fellow at Stanford University, said.
“It was gonna take a gesture from the U.S. to break through after Hanoi, and the North Koreans needed to commit to a technical approach,” he added. “I think we got both of those today.”
Also present at Panmunjom was South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who shook hands and shared a few words with the North Korean leader ahead of a one-on-one meeting between Kim and Trump.
Following his meeting with Trump, Kim Jong Un said he and Trump “have created a precedent where we can meet at any time we want without being restrained to venue and format.”
Moon, in return, answered: “that fact by itself is significant.”
Speaking at the joint news conference following the summit, the South Korean President said the “historic meeting takes place at the bold proposal of President Trump.”
“I would like to express my respect for President Trump’s very bold and creative approach,” he said. “And I believe that the peace process to achieve the complete denuclearization and establish permanent peace on the Korean peninsula crossed a big hill through today’s meeting.”
The South Korean President said he has “huge expectations,” repeatedly expressing his gratitude toward Trump and expressing his view that “good results will be around the corner.”
“The optics are fantastic for President Moon,” Peter Ward, the North Korea watcher, said. “It comes at a time when the economy is struggling, and when a diplomatic process initiated by South Korea has faltered.”
“One of Moon’s chief successes was the peace process between the DPRK and the U.S.: this surprise meeting was extremely good for Moon.”
Coverage of Sunday’s summit in North Korean media is likely to emerge early on Monday morning — and is likely to offer more insights into Pyongyang’s response to the meeting.
“Both externally and domestically oriented North Korean state media will likely give prominent coverage to Kim’s meeting with the U.S. President tomorrow,” Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
“Media will likely play up the ‘sudden’ arrangement of the meeting, as it did for the second Kim-Moon summit in Panmunjom in May 2018,” she continued.
“State media may play up the fact that the meeting took place on Trump’s initiative; it may even say that Kim went to Panmunjom at Trump’s invitation.”
“This may help boost Kim’s estimation in the people’s eyes and further bolster the state media narrative in recent weeks that one of Kim’s major achievements is that he placed the DPRK on the same level as the world’s great powers.”
President Trump following the meeting then headed to Osan Air Base, where he addressed U.S. troops stationed in Korea and hailed his “great relationship” with the North Korean leader.
He is set to depart South Korea later in the evening.
Colin Zwirko and Dagyum Ji contributed reporting
Featured image: White House