SEOUL, South Korea – President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands in a brief but historic meeting Sunday in the heavily fortified demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea, an unprecedented encounter that comes despite a lack of measurable progress on denuclearization.
“Stepping across that line was a great honor,” Trump said after the two walked toward each other and shook hands, making him the first sitting president to cross the demarcation line between North and South Korea.
Trump and Moon landed in a helicopter mid-afternoon in the DMZ under overcast skies and proceeded to a vista overlooking North Korea where U.S. presidents are often photographed during visits to the zone peering out over the North. Sean Morrow, commander of the U.N. Security Battalion, gave Trump a briefing about the area and the security situation, gesturing toward the distance.
Trump said that the security situation in the area had gotten better.
“There was great conflict here prior to our meeting in Singapore,” Trump said. “After our first summit, all of the danger went away.”
He added: “It’s all working out. It always works out.”
Then Trump traveled a short distance to speak with U.S. and South Korean troops who patrol the South Korean side of the border.
“You are terrific people you’ve done a tremendous job, and we’re with you all the way,” Trump said.
A senior Trump administration official tells NBC News that one possible outcome from the handshake and brief meeting, desired by U.S. officials, is that it could jump-start negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea at a lower level being led by Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea.
Those talks could then focus on making more substantive progress on the nuclear issues that led Trump to pull out of the Hanoi summit when it became clear that the North wasn’t yet willing to concede as much as the U.S. felt was necessary.
The official also says that even though North Korea’s government agreed to the meeting Sunday, U.S. officials were unsure that it would actually happen until the moment that Kim arrived.
Earlier, standing with Moon at the Blue House, South Korea’s equivalent of the White House, Trump said that he and Kim “understand each other, I do believe.” He said that both he and Kim wanted to hold the meeting “from the beginning.”
“He understands me, and I believe I maybe understand him,” Trump said. “Sometimes that can lead to very good things.”
Yet the brief run-in between the leaders in the DMZ was seen to be more of a photo-op than a substantive session, lasting just a few minutes. National security hawks and many of Trump’s critics have warned that such meetings give legitimacy to Kim and remove pressure needed to get the North to rid itself of nuclear weapons without accomplishing anything concrete.
“I’m never in a rush,” Trump said. “If you’re in a rush, you get yourself in trouble.”
Trump’s initial invitation to Kim came on Twitter on Friday. Already, Trump is the first U.S. president to meet a North Korean leader while in office, having met with him twice before. This marks the first meeting in the no-man’s-land between North and South since the end of the Korean War.
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