SEOUL, South Korea (NBC) — With small steps, the leaders of North and South Korea took a giant leap forward Friday, crossing each other’s borders in a historic meeting that could mark a turning point in one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.
Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in later signed a declaration stating there would be “no more war on the Korean Peninsula” and heralding “a new era of peace.”
The countries technically remain in a state of war.
Kim and Moon also agreed to “cease all hostile acts against each other” and to “transform the demilitarized zone into a peace zone.”
The countries also agreed to the common goal of “complete denuclearization” on the Korean Peninsula.
Moon said he would visit Pyongyang in the fall.
Earlier, Kim stepped across a low concrete military demarcation line separating the rival nations and greeted Moonwith smiles and handshakes. As cameras clicked, he took Moon by the hand and invited him to briefly step back into North Korea.
Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in cross the military demarcation line at Panmunjom on Friday.AP
The summit laid the foundation for a meeting between the North Korean leader and President Donald Trump.
“We have a chance to heal the wounds,” Kim told Moon as they sat down for talks at the border truce village of Panmunjom on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone.
Kim then wrote a promise in a ceremonial book: “A new history begins now.”
After breaking off for lunch, the leaders met again to plant a commemorative pine tree and strolled together through the village without aides.
Kim made an unconventional attempt to break the ice with a comment about his recent missile tests, according to a briefing to reporters by Moon’s spokesman, Yoon Young Chan.
Kim said to Moon with a smile: “I was told that you used to be unable to get a good night’s sleep, being awakened … to attend the National Security Council meetings because of us.”
The North Korean leader added: “I’ll make sure that you can sleep soundly.”
In the first meeting between North and South leaders in a decade, Kim also said that he looks forward to “making the most of this opportunity so that we have the chance to heal the wounds between the North and the South. Let’s meet more often from now on.”
He added: “Let’s meet people’s expectations to make a better world. I promise we will do well in the future.”
According to Yoon, Kim also told Moon: “I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation as well as to work shoulder to shoulder with you to tackle the obstacles between us. I came to with the confidence that a brighter future awaits us.”
China applauded the leaders for taking a “historic step” toward peace. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing that China hopes for “new journey of long-term peace and stability on the peninsula.”
With North Korea’s nuclear weapons program having reached what American policymakers describe as a critical stage, expectations are high that Friday’s talks will lay the foundation for reduced tensions between North Korea and the United States.
The key players attending North Korea-South Korea summit
The proposed meeting between Kim and Trump would be the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. It is not clear when it would take place, although American officials have said it could be from late May to mid-June. Singapore, Switzerland, Sweden and Mongolia have all been cited as possible venues.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the U.S. “looks forward to continuing robust discussions in preparation for the planned meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in the coming weeks.”
Meetings between leaders of the two Koreas have occurred in the past, in 2000 and 2007, but in each of those instances the South Korean president traveled to Pyongyang.
Friday’s summit comes after last week’s news that Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, recently held one-on-one talks with the reclusive strongman. The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Pompeo on Thursday.
Kim also gave his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, a place at the negotiating table, The Associated Press reported. She took a seat beside Kim as he started his first round of talks. The only other North Korean official present was former intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, the top official in charge of relations with the South.
Diplomatic efforts waned late last year amid Trump’s war of words with Kim. He warned that Kim would be met with “fire and fury” and dubbed him “little rocket man.”
However, earlier this year, South Korea made some breakthroughs with its warring neighbor after a series of meetings and discussions that resulted in North Korea’s sending athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Athletes from the two countries entered the Olympic arena in PyeongChang under a unified flag, signaling the potential for warmer ties.