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North Korea’s leader steps across border for a historic summit

A handshake between North and South Korea’s leaders is just the start: They are expected to discuss a formal peace agreement.

Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Kim Jong Un walked across the border into South Korean-controlled territory on Friday, the first time a North Korean leader has set foot on South Korean soil since the end of the Korean War more than half a century ago.

Kim took those few historic steps ahead of a major summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Kim and Moon both crossed over into the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which separates the North and South, for a handshake — broadcast live — before their official meeting at the Peace House in the South Korean border village of Panmunjom.

The ceremonial handshake presages a much more monumental announcement that could come out of the summit: a formal peace agreement in the conflict between North and South Korea, decades after combat was halted in 1953 with an armistice.

North Korea’s nuclear program will also be atop the agenda, and the outcome of this meeting will help steer and set the tone for the possible future sit-down between President Donald Trump and Kim later this spring. North Korea announced that it would freeze nuclear tests and shutter a nuclear testing site last week, and this summit will likely determine whether Kim really is expressing a willingness to denuclearize.

The White House addressed the Kim-Moon summit in a statement, saying it was “hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula.”

“A new history starts now”

Trump has said North Korea has “agreed to denuclearization”; that isn’t true, and even if Kim is making overtures, there’s reason to be skeptical. But as Vox’s Alex Ward explained, “Diplomacy with North Korea is hard for one simple reason: Pyongyang promises a lot but then doesn’t follow through.”

But the start of the summit between Moon and Kim offered hopeful signs toward progress, though not enough to confirm Pyongyang has abandoned its habit of reneging on promises.

Kim, writing in the guestbook of the Peace House, declared, according to Reuters: “A new history starts now. An age of peace, from the starting point of history.”

The cameras also followed the two leaders as they sat across from each other at the start of the summit. In opening remarks, each made overtures of peace and tried to mark the importance of the occasion.

Moon, in his opening remarks, said that Kim had a huge burden on his shoulders. “Comrade Kim, for the first time in our history you crossed the military demarcation line,” Moon said, according to CNN. “It is no longer a symbol of division but a symbol of peace.”

Kim echoed those lofty sentiments — and appeared to acknowledge his country’s habit of backing away from diplomatic agreements.

“The expectations are high and we have learned a lesson from previous times and even if we have good agreements and implementations don’t follow, they will disappoint people who had high expectations,” Kim said, as CNN reported. He added: “I hope to write a new chapter between us.”

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