Donald Trump Meets Kim Jong Un in DMZ; Steps Onto North Korean Soil
9:07 a.m. ET June 30, 2019
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (right) speaks as he stands with President Donald Trump at the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea on Sunday, June 30, 2019.
SEOUL – In a made-for-television event with more symbolism than substance, President Donald Trump met Sunday with Kim Jong Un in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, and became the first U.S. president to step onto North Korean territory.
"Stepping across that line was a great honor," Trump told Kim after walking him on the North Korean side of the border, claiming "a lot of progress has been made" in the wake of their two past summits in Singapore and Vietnam.
After meeting with Kim for nearly an hour, Trump said both sides will set up "teams" to revive negotiations to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, a goal that has proved elusive for years.
Trump called it a "legendary" day that could lead to progress.
Kim told Trump that "I did not expect to see you at this place," before reminding him he would be the first U.S. president to cross into North Korea. Kim could be seen clapping when Trump actually stepped onto North Korean territory.
Later, while being questioned by American reporters, Kim lauded Trump for a "determined and courageous visit" designed to "bring an end to the unpleasant past."
While Trump had said the meeting would be little more than a quick handshake, he and Kim wound up speaking for close to an hour in a nearby building. They re-emerged for another stroll along the border, followed by armies of camera-wielding journalists and security personnel.
Trump and Kim shook hands and walked the border area amid an extraordinary and chaotic scene, as photographers, reporters, and security guards jostled for position and yelled at one another to get out of the way. At one point, Kim could be seen chuckling over the pandemonium. Trump grinned frequently during his chats with the North Korean leader.
"We met and we liked each other from Day One," Trump had said of Kim.
Members of Trump's entourage were in the room for his meeting with Kim, including senior advisers – and family members – daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. They later also went into a building that allowed them to cross the border into North Korea, an experience that Ivanka Trump described as "surreal."
While applauding Trump's goals, foreign policy analysts said the border meeting and the theatrics won't mean much unless he and Kim are able to make real progress on a deal to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. That has not been possible after the first two Trump-Kim summits.
Trump tends to "equate how he feels about a foreign leader and how he is treated with diplomacy," tweeted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "They are not the same. What matters is what is agreed to and actually happens. It is not the personal but policy that counts."
After the meeting, Trump told reporters that he would invite Kim to visit the United States "at the right time," and that could happen if things work out.
Trump had announced earlier on Sunday he would meet with Kim during a news conference in Seoul with South Korea President Moon Jae-in, who praised the idea as a "handshake for peace."
The DMZ includes the border between North and South Korea, and no U.S. president had ever stepped over that line until Sunday. Trump had said earlier he would have "no problem" becoming the first U.S. president to actually set foot in North Korean territory, and he did just that.
Before the brief chat with Kim, Trump received a traditional tour of the DMZ and how American and Korean forces guard the world's most heavily fortified region.
Critics said Kim has made no progress toward ending his nuclear weapons programs, even after two summit meetings with Trump, and should not be rewarded with the prestige of another presidential meeting.
Trump dismissed the criticism, saying that "we're doing well" with North Korea, and that tensions have been greatly reduced since he started meeting with Kim.
The two leaders have held summits in Singapore and Vietnam but have been unable to strike a deal in which North Korea junks its nuclear weapons facilities in exchange for reductions of economic sanctions.
Following the meeting with Kim, Trump headed to nearby Osan Air Base and spoke with U.S. troops. He then boarded Air Force One to return to the U.S. after a brief Asia trip.
Trump arrived in Seoul after attending the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan. While there, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to re-start talks on a new trade agreement that could end the economically damaging trade war between the world's two largest economies.
The last time they met, Trump and Kim met, they broke off negotiations after a second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. That meeting failed to yield progress toward an agreement in which North Korea would dismantle its nukes.
Kim and the North Koreans said they would not submit a specific plan to dismantle nuclear weapons sites until the U.S. removes economic sanctions; Trump and the U.S. said they wouldn't remove sanctions until Kim and the North Koreans put up a denuclearization plan.
Early in his term, Trump mocked Kim as "Little Rocket Man," and threatened to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea if it ever made a move to use nuclear weapons.
As the North Koreans made overtures for settlement talks, Trump changed his tune toward Kim. In the wake of the summits, first in Singapore and then in Vietnam, Trump now casts Kim as someone with whom he can make a deal.
Trump's faith is in contrast to foreign policy analysts and some aides who believe Kim will never give up his nuclear weapons, the key to control of his regime.
Before and after his meeting with Kim, Trump criticized predecessor Barack Obama for his approach to North Korea, as well as news coverage of his dealings with Kim. The current president claimed, without evidence, that his policy has avoided war with North Korea.
Many foreign policy analysts see the latest Trump-Kim get-together as a prelude to a third summit.
Harry J. Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies with the Center for the National Interest, said the two leaders can't afford to renew the kinds of threats they made little more than two years ago.
"There will be a reset in relations, and that is a win for both leaders," Kazianis said. "Both men have too much to lose now if they were to go back to the dark days of 'fire and fury.' A deal will take time to come together, but it will come together."
Olivia Enos, a policy analyst with the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, said the impromptu Trump-Kim meeting would do little to advance denuclearization.
That requires "sustained working-level negotiations" among experienced negotiators, she said, not "another photo-opp" with a "rights-abusing, illegal nuclear weapons-possessing North Korean dictator."
Trump had planned to visit the Demilitarized Zone during a trip to South Korea in 2017, but bad weather forced him to cancel.
Visiting the DMZ, one of the world's most heavily guarded areas, has become a near rite of passage for American leaders. Every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has toured the area except for George H.W. Bush, and he went when he was vice president.
In the run-up to his visit, Trump made questionable assertions about his North Korea policy.
At one point, Trump said previous presidents had sought meetings with Kim, but couldn't get one. Not so. Previous presidents refused to grant Kim a meeting because of the regime's behavior and North Korea's refusal to make any sort of commitment to forgo nuclear weapons.
"Trump is lying," tweeted Ben Rhodes, a foreign policy aide during Obama's eight years in office. "Obama never sought a meeting with Kim Jong Un. Foreign policy isn’t reality television it’s reality."
Rhodes later added: "Photo ops don’t get rid of nuclear weapons, carefully negotiated agreements do."
The significance of the latest Trump-Kim meeting will have to be measured later.
Michael McFaul, a U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, tweeted that if the Trump-Kim handshake "eventually leads to complete and verifiable North Korean denuclearization, today will remembered as a historic day."
He added: "And if it doesn’t, it will be remembered as a photo op stunt. High stakes."