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Korean Leaders Start Historic Summit As Washington Watches


Let's turn to South Korea now where history has just been made. For the first time ever, a North Korean leader has stepped foot in South Korea. A little while ago, Kim Jong Un walked across the border in the shared security area between the two countries for a summit meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae-in. NPR's Elise Hu has been watching all of this from nearby in South Korea, and she joins us now. Hey, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey there, Ailsa.

CHANG: So can you just take a moment to describe the scene for us right now?

HU: Yeah. It was really dramatic to watch. Even though we knew this was so choreographed and rehearsed by the southern side, to see Kim Jong Un suddenly emerge from the building behind a row of the iconic blue conference huts on the military demarcation line that separates the two countries, it was - you know, the crowd here - there's about a thousand journalists that are gathered here in - just not too far away from the border. You could actually hear a gasp as Kim Jong Un made his way over that demarcation line separating the two countries.

He stepped over the concrete curb which marks that line, and the two leaders shook hands. They held that handshake for about a dozen or so photographers who were capturing this moment. Then they walked side-by-side on this red carpet through a South Korean building and then continued this red carpet walk outdoors into a circle drive where they were received by a Korean honor guard.

CHANG: So what is on the agenda for the day?

HU: Three main topics. One is this fuzzy notion of denuclearization. The other is some sort of framework for peace since the Korean War is technically not over. The fighting...

CHANG: Right.

HU: ...Ended 1953, but these two countries still have to work things out - and finally, another fuzzy notion of improving inter-Korean ties. And so these two leaders are going to be doing a daylong summit. The previous two summits that were similar to this where two days long, so they have a lot to do within a short amount of time.

CHANG: And what do we think might actually come out of this summit? I mean, is it expected to be just mostly a symbolic meeting, or do you think the two countries might actually make headway on some of the issues they differ on?

HU: On denuclearization, that's where they're farthest apart. So we expect the least on that topic. But when it comes to some sort of peace framework that would maybe result in some sort of military stand-down between the two countries since they haven't been fighting since 1953, there is expected to be progress there and possibly progress on the other front, on the - somehow improving inter-Korean ties.

CHANG: And just sort of watching them interact initially, do you get a sense of any of the personal chemistry that might exist between these two men, or is it hard to glean from those moments?

HU: Well, it was the - it's the - it was the first time they met. But there was warmth. I mean, these two had both been through a lot of planning and rehearsal. And Moon Jae-in was - certainly seemed euphoric about this moment. He's the South Korean president. Kim Jong Un - I was surprised just to see him live because we usually see cleaned-up images of him...

CHANG: Right.

HU: ...And way after the fact. So it was interesting to see him so exposed.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Elise Hu covering the summit between the North and South Korean leaders. Thanks so much, Elise.

HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.