North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made history Friday by breaking the division in Korea’s world’s most heavily armed border to greet South Korean President Moon Jae-in for talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Kim then asked Moon to cross briefly back into the north with him before they returned to the South Korean 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.”
Whatever the Koreas announce Friday, the spectacle of Kim being feted on South Korean soil will be something to behold.
Kim and Moon will be enjoying each other’s company in the jointly controlled village of Panmunjom near the spot where a defecting North Korean soldier recently fled south in a hail of bullets fired by his former comrades.