What You Need to Know About the Historic Summit Between North and South Korea

Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un shaking hands after Kim crossed into South Korea. Photo: KimSujin/Getty Images

A year ago, North Korea was threatening South Korea and the United States with “merciless” strikes, and there were increasing fears that President Trump could help set off a nuclear war. While those fears are still very present, on Friday the focus was on the hope (albeit slim) of a peaceful resolution to the situation in North Korea.

In a historic summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the demilitarized zone between the two countries. The pair put on an exceedingly friendly display, and after hours of discussion, they announced they will work toward denuclearizing the peninsula and bringing an official end to their hostilities by the end of the year — though they did not offer details on how they plan to achieve those difficult goals. Here’s what you need to know:

What Led to the Summit

Kim made a sudden strategy shift in recent months, declaring in his annual New Year’s Day address that he hopes for a “peaceful resolution” with South Korea. The North then launched a charm offensive surrounding the Olympic Games in PyeongChang. Shortly before the games, the North struck a deal to have their athletes compete, and they marched with South Koreans in the opening ceremonies under a unified flag.

Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, led the North’s delegation, becoming the first member of the ruling dynasty to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended in 1953. During the visit, she invited Moon to meet with her brother in Pyongyang. In March the North Korean leader held talks with South Korean officials in Pyongyang, and agreed to hold a summit with Moon.

Meanwhile, Trump suddenly accepted Kim’s invitation to hold their own summit. Aside from being historic in its own right, the meeting between the Koreas will lay the groundwork for a Trump-Kim meeting, which is expected to happen in the next few weeks. On Thursday the White House released the first photos of newly sworn-in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo secretly meeting with Kim several weeks ago.

Delegations from the North and South sit down for the Inter-Korean Summit at the Peace House on April 27, 2018. Photo: Kim Jin Seok yeongook@gmail.com / 01027904123/Getty Images

The First Handshake

Everything about the Kim-Moon summit was carefully choreographed, down to Kim’s style of dress (a dark Mao-style suit to send the message that he’s still committed to his grandfather’s ideals) to Moon’s tie (light blue, like the Korean Unification Flag). Cameras broadcast the event live across the two countries, even breaking into the TV programming in South Korean prisons.

Their initial meeting could not have gone better. Kim emerged from a building in Panmunjom, the tiny town in the demilitarized zone, and headed for the concrete curb that marks the border between the two countries. Moon was waiting for him with his hand outstretched, and they smiled as the shook hands across the border. Moon invited Kim to cross into the South, and Kim accepted. After posing for more photos, Kim made an apparently unscripted overture, inviting Moon to cross back into the North with him. Holding hands, they stepped into the North, and then headed back into the South to begin talks.

The Talks

Upon entering the Peace House building in South Korea, Kim left a message in the welcome book. “A new history starts now,” he wrote. “An age of peace, from the starting point of history.”

After joking about the cold noodles he brought as a gift for Friday night’s dinner banquet, Kim addressed the press, saying “Let’s hold hands and walk toward the future.”

Kim also reiterated that he will stop nuclear missile tests. “It has taken 11 years for this historic moment to happen. Walking here, I wondered why it has taken so long,” he said.

Moon and Kim meet in the Peace House building. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“We have a whole day to us, so let’s talk about the things we haven’t been able to talk about for the last ten years,” Moon said. “I want to once again show my respect for Leader Kim Jong-un’s courageous decision that made today possible.”

Then the closed-door negotiations began. According to Moon’s spokesperson, Kim made a startling admission, acknowledging that the roads in North Korea are in poor condition, and noting that his delegates to the Olympics had admired the South’s bullet train.

He also joked that he wouldn’t be ruining Moon’s sleep with missile tests anymore. “Getting up early in the morning must have become a habit for you. I will make sure that your morning sleep won’t be disturbed,” he said.

After a break for lunch, during which the North Korean delegation headed back over the border, the two leaders held a tree-planting ceremony (which actually involved adding soil to a tree dating from 1953, the end of the Korean war).

Moon and Kim stand in front the pine tree in Panmunjom. Photo: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Outcome

Following a second round of talks, Kim and Moon signed a joint statement, then embraced. While light on details, they listed the following goals:

• North and South Korea will push for talks with the U.S. and potentially China to convert the armistice that ended the Korean War into a peace treaty by the end of the year. The nations are technically still at war, and the other nations must be involved because South Korea wasn’t a direct signatory to the armistice.
• A hotline will be set up to allow Kim and Moon to have regular contact, and liaison offices will be established in both countries.
• As of May 1, they will call off all propaganda activities, including loudspeakers and leaflets.
• Moon will visit Pyongyang in the fall.

What’s Next

The First Ladies of North and South Korea met for the first time, and the couples are headed to a dinner banquet. Afterward the two couples will attend a farewell party outside the Peace House.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

North and South Korea Summit: What You Need to Know