Kim becomes first North Korean leader to cross border into South since war

SEOUL, April 27 (Reuters) - Smiling and holding hands, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met at the heavily fortified demilitarized zone between the countries on Friday in the first summit for the two Koreas in over a decade.

The meeting, aimed at ending their decades-long conflict and easing tensions over the North's nuclear weapons program, comes weeks before Kim is due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump.

Moon greeted Kim at the military demarcation line at 9:30 a.m. (0030 GMT), making Kim the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Kim invited Moon to step briefly across the demarcation line into North Korea, before the two leaders crossed back into South Korea holding hands.

23 PHOTOS
Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-In meet at DMZ
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Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-In meet at DMZ
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a welcoming ceremony in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
People watch a TV showing a live broadcast of the inter-Korean summit, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a welcoming ceremony in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
People watch a TV showing a live broadcast of the inter-Korean summit, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
People wave the Korean unification flag during the inter-Korean summit, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a welcoming ceremony in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
Soldiers keep watch on the Grand Unification Bridge that leads to the Peace House, the venue for the Inter-Korean summit, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji
People hold the Korean unification flag as they watch a news report on the inter-Korean summit, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji
People watch a TV showing a live broadcast of the inter-Korean summit, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a welcoming ceremony in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
People watch a television news screen showing live footage of the inter-Korean summit between South Korea's President Moon Jae-in (on screen L) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (on screen R) at a railway station in Seoul on April 27, 2018. - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South's President Moon Jae-in shook hands on April 27 over the Military Demarcation Line that divides their countries in a gesture laden with symbolism ahead of a historic summit. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Vehicles carrying South Korean president Moon Jae-in approach a military check point on the Unification Bridge, linked to North Korea, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Paju, South Korea, on Friday, April 27, 2018. Kim Jong Un�on Friday became the first North Korean leader to enter South Korea since the peninsula was divided almost seven decades ago as talks begin over dismantling his nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Vehicles carrying South Korean president Moon Jae-in pass a military check point on the Unification Bridge, linked to North Korea, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Paju, South Korea, on Friday, April 27, 2018. Kim Jong Un�on Friday became the first North Korean leader to enter South Korea since the peninsula was divided almost seven decades ago as talks begin over dismantling his nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) is greeted by his supporters as he leaves for the truce village of Panmunjom, near the presidential Blue House in Seoul on April 27, 2018 ahead of the inter-Korea summit. - North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and the South's president Moon Jae-in will meet at the Military Demarcation Line that divides the peninsula before their summit on March 27, Seoul said, in an occasion laden with symbolism. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / various sources / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) is greeted by his supporters as he leaves for the truce village of Panmunjom, near the presidential Blue House in Seoul on April 27, 2018 ahead of the inter-Korea summit. - North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and the South's president Moon Jae-in will meet at the Military Demarcation Line that divides the peninsula before their summit on March 27, Seoul said, in an occasion laden with symbolism. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / various sources / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
The motorcade carrying South Korean President Moon Jae-in passes through Seoul as he heads to a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on April 27, 2018. - North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and the South's president Moon Jae-in will meet at the Military Demarcation Line that divides the peninsula before their summit on March 27, Seoul said, in an occasion laden with symbolism. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP) (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) is greeted by his supporters as he leaves for the truce village of Panmunjom, near the presidential Blue House in Seoul on April 27, 2018 ahead of the inter-Korea summit. - North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and the South's president Moon Jae-in will meet at the Military Demarcation Line that divides the peninsula before their summit on March 27, Seoul said, in an occasion laden with symbolism. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / various sources / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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The two were handed flowers by a South Korean boy and girl, residents of a village situated in the demilitarized zone.

Walking on a red carpet rolled out for the two heads of state, the pair were met by a South Korean honor guard in historical costumes and playing traditional music.

The two are expected to talk denuclearisation and exchanges between the Koreas and also will plant a memorial tree at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

Kim and Trump are expected to meet in late May or June, with Trump saying on Thursday he was considering several possible dates and venues.

Just months ago, Trump and Kim were trading threats and insults as North Korea's rapid advances in pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles capable of hitting the United States raised fears of a fresh conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Earlier Friday North Korea's official KCNA news agency said Kim had left Pyongyang for the "historical" summit in which he would "open-heartedly discuss with Moon Jae-in all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula."

Just days before the summit, Kim said North Korea would suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and dismantle its only known nuclear test site.

14 PHOTOS
Inside Panmunjom, the truce village separating North and South Korea
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Inside Panmunjom, the truce village separating North and South Korea
South Korean soldiers stand guard at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 11: A North Korean soldier stands guard at the border village of Panmunjom between South and North Korea at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on April 11, 2018 in Panmunjom, South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet for the first time on April 27, 2018 in the Peace House, a South Korean building inside Panmunjom. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean soldiers stand guard at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 11: North Korean military check point is seen from an observation post on April 11, 2018 in Panmunjom, South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet for the first time on April 27, 2018 in the Peace House, a South Korean building inside Panmunjom. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean soldiers stand guard in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea February 7, 2018. Picture taken on February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Josh Smith
PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 11: A North Korean national flag in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong is seen from an observation post on April 11, 2018 in Panmunjom, South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet for the first time on April 27, 2018 in the Peace House, a South Korean building inside Panmunjom. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
A South Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A North Korean soldier is seen through a door on the North side of the border truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on April 11, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are due to meet on April 27 at the South's side of the demilitarized zone for the landmark inter-Korean summit. / AFP PHOTO / Jung Yeon-je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A South Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
South Korean soldiers work on a barricade on the Grand Unification Bridge which leads to the truce village Panmunjom, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
South Korean soldiers stand guard in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, February 7, 2018. Picture taken on February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Josh Smith
The general view shows a North Korean village near the truce village of Panmunjom, seen from within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea on February 21, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean soldiers walk beside the road leading to the North Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom, seen from within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea on February 21, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
This general view shows a North Korean miltary post on the road to the truce village of Panmunjom, seen from within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea on February 21, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
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Moon traveled to the meeting in a large motorcade, stopping briefly to greet dozens of summit supporters waving South Korean flags near the Blue House.

Hundreds of demonstrators were seen gathering in downtown Seoul from early morning to protest or support the summit.

Skepticism has been rampant about whether Kim is ready to abandon the hard-earned nuclear arsenal his country has defended and developed for decades as what it says is a necessary deterrent against U.S. invasion.

The two neighbors expect to release a joint statement late on Friday - possibly called the Panmunjom Declaration - that could address denuclearisation and peace, and an improvement in relations, South Korean officials said.

UNENDING HOSTILITIES

Impoverished North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because the Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the Cold War conflict, which pitted the South, the United States and United Nations forces against the communist North, backed by China and Russia.

On Thursday, Trump once again he added that it remained unclear whether his meeting with Kimwould occur.

"It could be that I walk out quickly - with respect - but ... it could be that maybe the meeting doesn't even take place," he told Fox News by telephone. "Who knows. But I can tell you right now they want to meet."

The White House released two photographs of then Secretary of State-designate and CIA chief Mike Pompeo's meeting with Kim in North Korea over the Easter weekend to discuss the planned summit. It was Kim's first known meeting with a U.S. official.

The photos show Kim and Pompeo, who was confirmed as secretary of state on Thursday, shaking hands. In one they faced each other looking serious; in the other they both appeared to wear faint smiles. https://bit.ly/2KfRHN3

The latest summit has particular significance not least because of its venue: the Demilitarised Zone, a 160-mile (260-km) long, 2.5-mile (4-km) wide strip of land created in the 1953 armistice to serve as a buffer between the South and North.

For the first time, key moments such as Kim crossing the border into the South, the two leaders shaking hands and walking to the Peace House for their talks, were broadcast live.

(Reporting by the Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps, Christine Kim and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Susan Heavey and Eric Beech in WASHINGTON Editing by Lincoln Feast and James Dalgleish)

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