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World  

Kim Jung Un makes history

GOYANG, Korea, Republic Of - With a single step over a weathered, cracked slab of concrete, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made history Friday by crossing over the world's most heavily armed border to greet South Korean President Moon Jae-in for talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons. Kim then invited Moon to cross briefly back into the north with him before they returned to the southern side.

Those small steps must be seen in the context of the last year — when the United States, its ally South Korea and the North seemed at times to be on the verge of nuclear war as the North unleashed a torrent of weapons tests — but also in light of the long, destructive history of the rival Koreas, who fought one of the 20th century's bloodiest conflicts and even today occupy a divided peninsula that's still technically in a state of war.

"I feel like I'm firing a flare at the starting line in the moment of (the two Koreas) writing a new history in North-South relations, peace and prosperity," Kim told Moon as they sat at a table, its precise dimension of 2018 millimeters separating them, to begin their closed-door talks. Moon responded that there were high expectations that they produce an agreement that will be a "big gift to the entire Korean nation and every peace loving person in the world."

Earlier, both leaders smiled broadly as Moon grasped Kim's hand and led him along a blindingly red carpet into South Korean territory, where school children gave Kim flowers and an honour guard stood at attention for inspection, a military band playing traditional Korean folk songs beloved by both Koreas and the South Korean equivalent of "Hail to the Chief." It's the first time a North Korean leader has crossed over to the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone since the Korean War ended in 1953.

Beyond the carefully choreographed surface, however, it's still not clear whether the leaders can make any progress in talks on the nuclear issue, which has bedeviled U.S. and South Korean officials for decades. North Korea's nuclear and missile tests last year likely put it on the threshold of becoming a legitimate nuclear power. North Korea claims it has already risen to that level.

Kim's news agency said that the leader would "open-heartedly" discuss with Moon "all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula" in a "historic" summit.

The greeting of the two leaders was planned to the last detail. Thousands of journalists were kept in a huge conference centre well away from the summit, except for a small group of tightly-controlled pool reporters at the border. Moon stood near the Koreas' dividing line, moving forward the moment he glimpsed Kim, dressed in dark, Mao-style suit, appearing in front of a building on the northern side. They shook hands with the border line between them. Moon then invited Kim to cross into the South, and, after he did so, Kim grasped Moon's hand and led him into the North and then back into the South. They took a ceremonial photo facing the North and then another photo facing the South.



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