Kim Jong Un Has Become The First North Korean Leader To Step Into The South

Kim made history by entering South Korean territory after shaking hands with Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone. Photo credit Reuters

Kim made history by entering South Korean territory after shaking hands with Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone.

Kim made history by entering South Korean territory after shaking hands with Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone.

April 27, 2018, at 3:41 a.m.
Updated on April 27, 2018, at 9:58 a.m.

For the first time since the Korean War ended more than half a century ago, the leader of North Korea has visited South Korea, marking the beginning of historic peace talks between the two rival nations.

Friday’s meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in began as the two men shook hands in the heavily-armed demilitarized zone, a 2.5-mile wide strip that has divided their countries since 1953. Kim then made history by stepping into South Korean territory, which is technically still at war with his country.

In a moment that wasn’t featured in rehearsals, Kim then invited Moon to step back into North Korea with him.

The first summit session between Kim and Moon began soon after at the Peace House on the southern side of the demilitarized zone. On the agenda for the meeting was denuclearization, peace, and improvements in the relationship between the two countries.

In the opening moments of the discussions, Kim said that he “hopes to come to an agreement today to fulfill the hopes of people who wish for peace,” Reuters reported.


The initial moments of the meeting were watched live around the world and displayed on public TV screens throughout South Korea. Shortly after the historic handshake, Kim wrote in a Peace House guestbook that “new history starts now; age of peace, from the starting point of history,” Reuters reported.

Kim was accompanied during the meeting by his sister, Kim Yo Jong, who has long worked behind the scenes as a leader in North Korea and recently began appearing more often in public.

As the meeting began, the White House said in a statement, “We are hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula.”

A spokesperson for the South Korean government said afterwards that the pair had “serious, frank” discussions about denuclearization and permanent peace in the Korean peninsula, and that a joint statement was being drawn up.

The two leaders will also plant a pine tree together as a symbol of peace and prosperity, stroll across a footbridge, and dine at a banquet. Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, and Moon’s wife, Kim Jung-sook, will also attend the dinner.

Friday’s meeting was the first between leaders of the North and South since 2007 and was only the third time leaders from the two countries have met in the past 65 years. Kim has been in power since 2011, when he took over after his late father.

According to Moon’s spokesperson Yoon Young-chan, the two leaders discussed a potential visit by the South Korean president to the North. Kim said that his own country’s poor transport conditions might make such a trip uncomfortable for Moon, who responded that the North could share the South’s high-speed trains if rail networks were reconnected and relations improved.

Kim also referred to the thousands of defectors from the North who have crossed the border since the division of the peninsula, according to Yoon, who quoted him as saying: “We should value this opportunity so that the scars between the South and North could be healed.”

The meeting is a result of negotiations led by Moon’s ambitions to obtain peace between the neighboring countries. A secret meeting with then–CIA director Mike Pompeo in April also helped pave the way for a planned meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump, which would be the first time a sitting US president and a leader of North Korea have met since 1953.

White House via AP
Then–CIA director Mike Pompeo shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, during a 2018 Easter weekend trip.

Pompeo’s meeting with Kim was the highest-level contact between the US and North Korea since 2000, when then–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with the current leader’s father, Kim Jong Il.

Tensions between North Korea and the West had ratcheted up significantly since President Trump took office. Last year, Trump called Kim “little rocket man” and threatened to meet the country with “fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” During that same period, North Korea carried out a series of increasingly provocative missile tests in a show of force.

But recent weeks have seen an unprecedented cooling of those tensions. In addition to the meetings with Moon and Pompeo, just a week ago North Korea said it stopped all nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. On Monday, South Korea stopped blasting K-pop music across the DMZ toward North Korea.

And in Seoul, South Koreans have expressed support for a unified Korea and rallied in support of Friday’s meeting by holding up signs with slogans that read, “Peace, a new start.”

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at





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