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Trump-Kim Summit

Trump and Kim make history but leave hard work for negotiators

Both sides seized opportunity to grab attention with DMZ encounter

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas on June 30.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- The latest face-to-face meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unfolded in dramatic fashion on June 30 with Trump crossing one of the world's most dangerous military borders.

But the way forward for negotiators toward dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program remains equally hazardous, as they are hemmed in by red lines on both sides regarding denuclearization and sanctions.

With Trump looking ahead to his reelection campaign and Kim eager as ever to loosen international sanctions on his country, both leaders had been hoping for a chance to sustain dialogue after their previous summit in Hanoi ended inconclusively.

As for the next step, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on June 30 that teams from both sides "will gather and they'll start working," likely in "the next two or three weeks."

"The president, by getting together with Chairman Kim today, broke through and was able to get us the opportunity to get back to the negotiating table," Pompeo said.

The leaders' third summit was initiated by Trump's tweet on June 28 in which he expressed willingness to meet Kim at the Demilitarized Zone "just to shake his hand and say Hello."

By June 30, helicopters were whisking the American leader and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the DMZ.

Most observers expected just a short meet-and-greet between Trump and Kim. But the two leaders, who met at the de facto border between the two Koreas around 3:46 p.m., spoke for nearly an hour. Trump later became the first sitting U.S. president to step onto the North Korean side of the DMZ.

"I believe just looking at this action, this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate all the unfortunate past and open a new future," Kim told reporters afterward.

"It’s just an honor to be with you, and it was an honor that you asked me to step over that line," Trump said.

"When I put out the social media notification, if he didn’t show up, the press was going to make me look very bad," he also said. " So you made us both look good, and I appreciate it."

Trump likely aims to signal progress on North Korea as the 2020 presidential election approaches. He fed reporters accompanying him updates on every step of the lead-up to the encounter with Kim.

The president also stressed in comments to reporters that Pyongyang had halted nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, even while saying there was no need to rush on denuclearization.

Meanwhile, Kim was eager to restore his political standing following their second summit in February. A historic meeting with Trump would boost the North Korean leader's image internationally and at home, where U.N. sanctions have heavily impacted both the people and the military.

"If it was not for our excellent relation between the two of us, it would not have been possible to have this kind of opportunity" on such short notice, Kim said.

During a speech in April, Kim said he would wait for an American offer on denuclearization until the end of the year. He sought sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling the North's Yongbyon nuclear facility when the leaders met in February, but Trump refused.

Kim likely hopes that the U.S. presidential campaign will boost his negotiating position with Trump.

Though Trump also said the leaders agreed to resume working-level negotiations toward shutting down North Korea's nuclear program, many observers are skeptical.

The U.S. team is led by Pompeo and Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea. But Pyongyang is openly disgruntled by Pompeo's hard-line approach and has requested that Washington remove him from negotiations.

Kim brought his sister, Kim Yo Jong, as well as top diplomats Ri Yong Ho and Choe Son Hui to the Demilitarized Zone on June 30.

Former spymaster Kim Yong Chol has been removed from the talks, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry is expected to play a leading role moving forward.

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