President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Sunday in a historic encounter at the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula, where the US president invited his counterpart to visit the White House.
The two leaders shook hands and exchanged pleasantries at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ, the heavily fortified dividing line between North and South Korea established as part of the armistice that halted the Korean War in 1953.
Trump was joined on his trip to the DMZ — which took place after a visit from the commander-in-chief to the US troops stationed in South Korea — by South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Moon has been a vocal backer of the US leader’s efforts to bring Kim into a dialogue and has had several historic meetings himself with Kim. (Also present at the DMZ: Fox News host Tucker Carlson.)
While waiting for Kim at the border, Trump used the time to bash the US media’s coverage of the North Korea negotiations, accusing journalists of having “no appreciation for what is being done. None.”
Once Kim arrived, Trump strode across the demarcation line separating the two countries, becoming the first sitting US president to cross over into North Korea. "It’s good to see you again," Kim told Trump after they shook hands. "I didn’t expect to meet you at this place."
Trump responded by telling reporters "I'll invite him to the White House right now." No North Korean leader has ever traveled to the United States.
Trump and Kim then departed to a negotiating room for a one-on-one chat. They later joined Moon back across the demarcation line for another private meeting.
Such an encounter would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. But relations between the two countries have zig-zagged at breakneck speed in the years since Trump took office.
However, a deal that would dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and lift US sanctions has eluded both men.
The meeting — the third in-person encounter between Trump and Kim following two summits — had not been part of the president’s original itinerary when he left for Asia earlier in the week, but was hurriedly organized in just over a day following a surprise Trump tweet on Saturday as he was wrapping up his time at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan.
"I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon)," Trump wrote on Saturday morning as he began meetings in Japan, prior to heading to South Korea. "While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!"
Trump later told reporters the tweet was unplanned, but he had wanted to "put out a feeler." In fact, the president had told the Hill earlier in the week that he was planning a secret trip to the DMZ in which he was considering meeting with Kim. The Hill held off on publishing the news at the request of White House officials, who cited security concerns.
He later referred to the trip to the DMZ in yet another tweet as "long-planned."
Saturday’s invitation-by-Twitter appeared to catch the North Korean leadership off guard, as Kim himself indicated on Sunday, saying he was "surprised" by Trump's offer, but they too worked quickly to make it happen.
"We see it as a very interesting suggestion, but we have not received an official proposal in this regard," said Choe Son Hui, North Korea's first vice-minister for foreign affairs, in a statement carried by state media. She called the possibility of a meeting "another opportunity to deepen the friendship that exists between the two heads of state and to improve relations of the two nations."
The two men last met in February in Vietnam, where a two-day summit was abruptly cut short as the countries remained at loggerheads over relief from US sanctions. North Korea demanded the economic measures be lifted entirely without a full dismantling of their weapons program — a deal the US was not prepared to make.
"Sometimes you have to walk," Trump told reporters after the failed summit, "and this was just one of those times."
They had previously met in Singapore in June of last year — the first such meeting between a US president and North Korean leader. That summit came on the heels of the two leaders swapping swaggering threats of apocalyptic destruction, as well as childish name-calling (Trump had famously called Kim "Rocket Man").
But in recent times, Trump and Kim seem to both see flattery as their best hope for reaching a deal, even as diplomats have struggled to find common ground on actual substance. The pair have exchanged letters, with Kim going so far as to send Trump a greeting for his birthday.
"He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters," Trump told rally supporters in September. "We fell in love."
Kim seemed to play up that bond when speaking with the press alongside Trump after their brief meeting. "If it wasn't for that good relationship, we would not have been able to make this sudden meeting possible," Kim said.
"So this excellent relationship in the future as well, I hope that it can be the foundation for better things in the future that people will be not expecting," Kim continued. "And this will be a very mysterious force that allows us to overcome many difficulties that existed in the past."
Earlier this year, Trump withdrew new sanctions against North Korea, with the White House saying the decision was made because the president "likes" Kim Jong Un.
In April 2018, Kim met Moon Jae-in at the same DMZ village. During the same encounter, Kim became the first North Korean leader to step into the South since the end of the war.