Kim Jong-un ventures into South Korea for 1st time at summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un makes history and crosses the southern border to meet rival Moon Jae-in for a historic summit.

North Korean leader says he's ready for 'heartfelt, sincere and honest' talks

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. (Reuters)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has made history by crossing over to the southern side of the world's most heavily armed border to meet his rival, South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

It's the first time a member of the ruling Kim dynasty has set foot on southern soil since the end of the Korean War in 1953 and the latest bid to settle the world's last Cold War standoff.

The overwhelming focus of the summit, the country's third ever, will be on North Korea's growing arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Kim said he's ready for "heartfelt, sincere and honest" talks with Moon on pending issues and that the Koreas must not repeat the past where they were "unable to fulfil our agreements."

He did not make any direct mention of the nuclear issue in the part of his talks with Moon that were shown on live television.

Moon had awaited Kim's arrival at "Freedom House," a building on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone. As soon as he saw Kim come out, he walked to meet him at the border so that their handshake would be at the most symbolic of locations, each leader standing on his side of the military demarcation line that separates North from South.

Their hands still clasped, Moon invited the North Korean leader into the South for the first time ever, just one step over a line of concrete.

After he did, Kim, in return, gestured for Moon to step into the North. They both did, and then returned to the South together, hands held

The leaders, who seemed on the verge of war months ago, are scheduled to take a pleasant walk, plant a commemorative tree, inspect an honour guard and enjoy a lavish banquet. What's less clear is whether they can make any progress in closed door talks on the only thing the world really cares about: North Korea's growing arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The first session of talks ended shortly after noon, local time, with plans to reconvene later in the day. 

The North likely still has work to do before it perfects the finer technological points on its long-range nukes, but there's little question that it stands on the threshold of becoming what Kim says his nation already is: A nuclear weapons power.

Friday's summit will be the clearest sign yet of whether it's possible to peacefully negotiate those weapons away from a country that has spent decades doggedly building its bombs despite crippling sanctions and near-constant international opprobrium.

Expectations are generally low, given that past so-called breakthroughs on North Korea's weapons have collapsed amid acrimonious charges of cheating and bad faith. Skeptics of engagement have long said that the North often turns to interminable rounds of diplomacy meant to ease the pain of sanctions, give it time to perfect its weapons, and win aid for unfulfilled nuclear promises.

Advocates of engagement say the only way to get a deal is to do what the Koreas will try Friday: Sit down and see what's possible.

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. (Kim Hong-ji/Reuters)

Trump talks to come

Moon, a liberal whose election last year ended a decade of conservative rule in Seoul, will be looking to make some headway on the North's nuclear program in advance of a planned summit in several weeks between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim, the third member of his family to rule his nation with absolute power, is eager, both in this meeting and in the Trump talks, to talk about the nearly 30,000 heavily armed U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and the lack of a formal peace treaty ending the Korea War — two factors, the North says, that make nuclear weapons necessary.

North Korea may also be looking to use whatever happens in the talks with Moon to set up the Trump summit, which it may see as a way to legitimize its declared status as a nuclear power.

One possible outcome Friday, aside from a rise in general goodwill between the countries, could be a proposal for a North Korean freeze of its weapons ahead of later denuclearization. Seoul and Washington will be pushing for any freeze to be accompanied by rigorous and unfettered outside inspections of the North's nuclear facilities, since past deals have crumbled because of North Korea's unwillingness to open up to snooping foreigners.

South Korea, in announcing Thursday some details of the leaders' meeting, acknowledged that the most difficult sticking point between the Koreas has been North Korea's level of denuclearization commitment. Kim has reportedly said that he wouldn't need nuclear weapons if his government's security could be guaranteed and external threats were removed.

Whatever the Koreas announce Friday, the spectacle of Kim being feted on South Korean soil will be something to behold. Kim and Moon will be enjoying each other's company in the jointly controlled village of Panmunjom near the spot where a defecting North Korean soldier recently fled south in a hail of bullets fired by his former comrades.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their meeting at the Peace House in Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas on Friday. (Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters)