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4 Takeaways From the Trump-Kim Meeting at the DMZ


When President Trump sent a Twitter invitation on Friday to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to meet at the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone separating the Koreas — “just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!” — both men had much to gain, and more to lose.

If Mr. Kim did not attend, even though his side had seemed intrigued, it would have embarrassed Mr. Trump and opened him up to more criticism for his unpredictable diplomacy. It would also have compounded the dramatic failure of their summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, which Mr. Trump abruptly called off in February.

But the North’s leader showed up at the appointed time. Here are four takeaways from the historic encounter.

The scene appeared to be chaotic at times, with video footage showing journalists and camera people scurrying around the two leaders, jockeying with security officials and elbowing one another to position themselves into the perfect spot to record the encounter.

And the North Korean security forces also left bruises on the American side.

Stephanie Grisham, the newly minted White House press secretary, had a trial by fire after she tried to facilitate the American television crew’s entry into a building called Freedom House and emerged roughed up from body blows by North Korean officers, according to journalists at the scene.

The CNN reporter Jim Acosta said on Twitter that the encounter was being described as “an all out brawl.” Earlier, he said during a CNN broadcast that he had experience the same treatment when he had been in Singapore for Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Kim’s first summit, in 2018.

The unpredictable nature of the meeting could not be overstated, as at times Mr. Kim’s bodyguards, grim-looking behind sunglasses, appeared to be straining to fully protect the North’s leader. They seemed hemmed in by Western reporters, camera people and handlers from the United States, North Korea and South Korea.

In addition, shouts of “Guys! Guys! Come on!” could be heard as reporters scolded two North Korean cameramen who were relentless in their mission to record their leader’s meeting with Mr. Trump — even if it meant blocking the other journalists.

The unexpected invitation on Friday that took Mr. Trump’s diplomatic corps by surprise while the president was attending the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, bore symbolic fruit in spades.

It morphed from a tweet, to a handshake, to a historic 20 steps by an American leader into officially hostile territory: At 3:46 p.m. local time on Sunday, Mr. Trump became the first serving American president to cross the border and set foot in North Korea.

“Big moment, big moment,” Mr. Trump said.

“It is good to see you again,” a beaming Mr. Kim told the president at the Demilitarized Zone through an interpreter. “I never expected to meet you in this place.”

After posing for photographs in a crush of international journalists and camera people, the two men walked back to the South Korean side and had a bilateral meeting that lasted more than an hour in Freedom House.

At the end, Mr. Trump said the two men had agreed to send their negotiators back to the table to seek a long-elusive agreement on the North’s nuclear ambitions. Mr. Trump also said he would invite Mr. Kim to visit him at the White House.

During the meeting on Sunday, video footage showed intimate, colorful glimpses of scenes of a border sometimes called the last Cold War frontier.

Viewers caught sight of men holding a thick yellow rope, which apparently was used to corral journalists at the site. It was not quite the velvet rope the White House Press Office put up in front of the press corps in 2017, when Sean Spicer was press secretary.

Then there were the blue huts. The 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone that has separated North and South Korea for decades is jointly overseen by the American-led United Nations Command and North Korea. The squat huts straddled the demarcation line, painted powder blue in the color of the United Nations.

Camera lenses offered close-up views of the barriers and markers in the “truce village” of Panmunjom — 32 miles north of Seoul and 91 miles south of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital — where officials signed an armistice in 1953 to halt the three-year Korean War.

The area is lined with mines and barbed-wire fences, though those were not as visible on Sunday. Combat-ready soldiers train deadly weapons at the other side. But on Sunday, it appeared to be overrun by journalists. As cameras homed in on the low concrete barrier that Mr. Trump had crossed to enter into North Korea on Sunday, it seemed hardly daunting. But visitors have dared not cross the slab, for fear of being shot.

That’s exactly what happened in 2017, when a North Korean soldier defected to South Korea through the heavily guarded zone separating the two countries, leading to gunfire on both sides of the border. Closed-circuit television footage showed the soldier’s dramatic dash through the Joint Security Area north of Seoul, the South Korean capital, on Nov. 13.

The most notorious incident at Panmunjom happened in 1976, according to The Associated Press, when ax-wielding North Korean soldiers killed two American officers sent out to trim a tree that had been blocking the view from a checkpoint. Washington sent nuclear-capable bombers toward the DMZ in response. Animosities eased after Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, expressed regret for the episode.

The two leaders greeted each other like old friends on Sunday, with a beaming Mr. Kim praising Mr. Trump, and with Mr. Trump offering effusive praise of the man many experts have called a brutal dictator who has killed members of his own family.

“This has a lot of significance because it means that we want to bring an end to the unpleasant past and try to create a new future, so it’s a very courageous and determined act,” Mr. Kim told reporters through an interpreter.

“I don’t think this kind of surprise meeting would have happened without the excellent personal relationship between your excellency and me,” he later told Mr. Trump in Freedom House.

“If he didn’t show up, the press was going to make me look very bad,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Kim, adding, “He made me look very good.”

Later, he said: “Certainly, this was a great day; this was a very legendary, very historic day.”

But even as the meeting thrummed with the weight of a symbolic moment of reconciliation, Mr. Trump is eager for a resolution to the stalled nuclear talks with North Korea as he heads into a re-election year. He clearly hopes it to be defined as a signature element that could boost his campaign.

But United States intelligence agencies and analysts have concluded that North Korea “is unlikely” to give up its nuclear arsenal. “Tomorrow, North Korea will still have nuclear weapons, and the U.S. will still maintain sanctions,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

Even Mr. Trump, amid the lavish praise, injected a word of caution that anything concrete would come of his moment, saying: “It’ll be even more historic if something comes out of it.”

Peter Baker contributed reporting.





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