Ilsan, near the DMZ, South Korea (CNN) – With a single step, Kim Jong Un broke with decades of hostility and distrust to become the first North Korean leader to cross into South Korean territory since 1953.
It marked the beginning of a landmark summit, the first meeting of the leaders of North and South Korea in over a decade, with broad implications for the world.
Shaking hands with Moon Jae-in, while standing in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the two countries, Kim told the South Korean President he felt the weight of meeting at “such a historic location.”
“It was a very courageous decision for you to come all the way here,” Moon replied.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in walk together at the border village of Panmunjom Friday.
The highly-choreographed summit is the result of months of diplomatic talks between the North and the South and every moment has been laden with symbolism and history by organizers.
But in a rare unscripted moment right after their first meeting on the demarcation line, Kim invited Moon to step into the northern side of the DMZ. “Maybe this is the right time for you to enter North Korean territory,” Kim said to Moon, who took him up on the invitation.
South Korean viewers in Seoul erupted at the warm greeting between Kim and Moon, with residents gathered around television screens across the city applauding and cheering.
“I didn’t think I would be able to see such things happening in my life. I am happy to be witness to history in the making,” local resident Kwak Eun-jung told CNN.
Before the talks started, North Korea’s young leader said he wanted to write a new chapter in Korean relations.
“As I walked over here, I thought ‘why was it so difficult to get here?’ The separating line wasn’t even that high to cross. It was too easy to walk over that line and it took us 11 years to get here,” Kim told Moon and the gathered officials.
Moon praised Kim’s “courageous and bold decision” to sit down for talks during their morning meeting. “Over the past seven decades we weren’t able to communicate, so I think we can talk the whole day today”, Moon said, drawing laughs from Kim.
Kim received a full red-carpet welcome at the DMZ, including a military band in traditional dress which played the Korean folk song “arirang,” well known in both North and South Korea.
Signing a visitor’s book upon entering the Peace House, where negotiations took place, Kim wrote “a new history begins now” and “an age of peace, at the starting point of history.”
The summit is the result of lengthy and determined negotiating on the part of Moon, a longtime advocate of peace between the Koreas. It will also set the stage for the first meeting between a sitting US president and North Korean leader when Donald Trump and Kim meet in late May or June.