US President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jongun at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone, South Korea. Image Credit: AP

Seoul: It sure looked historic: President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un strode toward each other Sunday from opposite sides of a strip of land that marks one of the world’s most dangerous places. They shook hands and then Trump stepped over the concrete slab that marks the borderline between the Koreas, becoming the first US president to set foot in North Korean territory.

But then again, the undeniably made-for-TV moment also had all the elements, as critics will quickly remind you, of the grandstanding photo-ops that some say characterise the Trump era.

So what was it?

Another history-making step forward — Trump called it “legendary” — in two highly unorthodox leaders’ attempts to fundamentally change a relationship marked by decades of mistrust, bloodshed and frustration?

Sunday’s sometimes surreal, sometimes chaotic encounter in the divided border village of Panmunjom was probably a little of both. In one moment, reporters and security officials jostled each other in a scrum to get a shot of the action” in the next, Kim and Trump emerged from private meetings with an agreement to restart nuclear disarmament talks.

People watch a TV screen showing Trump and Kim in a news programme at a railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. Image Credit: AP

It’s never easy to sift through the frenzied reactions that proliferate whenever Trump and Kim take to the world stage, and the dramatic setting of this meeting was bound to heighten the noise. But whatever you might think of what happened, history will likely judge it on a single point: Will it help address the North’s headlong pursuit of a fully functioning arsenal of nuclear weapons that can strike anywhere in the U. S.?

Was it just a reality show?

With a single tweet inviting Kim to the border, Trump on Saturday overshadowed the summit in Japan of the leaders of the Group of 20 major economies he’d ostensibly come to Asia for and back-footed the small army of Democrats jockeying to replace him in next year’s presidential election.

The world’s attention Sunday was suddenly riveted on the Demilitarised Zone that separates the rival Koreas, waiting to see if Kim would accept the hasty invitation to a place where burly troops from two nations that are still technically at war glare at each other across the borderline.

What’s the status of the rapprochement right now?

For all the drama that has accompanied the Kim-Trump meetings, nothing has yet settled the stalemate the rivals now find themselves in: Washington wants the North to move much faster toward full nuclear disarmament before it grants the security guarantees and huge cuts in crushing outside sanctions Pyongyang wants” North Korea says the United States is losing a crucial opportunity by not providing concessions for the North’s offer to scrap its main nuclear plant.

What’s the doubt all about?

Widespread doubt has met each step in the strange, surprising relationship Trump and Kim have been building — from Kim’s 2017 insults on Trump’s intelligence and Trump’s vows to unleash “fire and fury” that had many fearing war to the professions of love and respect and the exchange of “beautiful” letters after diplomacy took hold in early 2018. The diplomacy beats the threats, these critics say, but each time Trump comes away empty-handed from a new meeting, he only further legitimises Kim as an accepted nuclear power.

Haven’t both countries achieved something substantial?

The feeling that the handshake and brief march by Trump and Kim into the North could be part of something special is linked in part to just how far North Korea and the United States have come to get here.

The Korean Peninsula was split at the end of the Second World War into a Soviet-controlled north and US-backed South. Then, after the terror of the 1950-53 Korean War, it was divided permanently along the Demilitarised Zone, with a US-led UN Command controlling the southern side of the border area.

A succession of US presidents and senior officials has trooped up to the DMZ over the decades to look with steely resolve into the North. There have been axe killings, US bomber fly-bys and desperate defections — and that’s just at the border.

Since the early 1990s, Washington and Pyongyang have been locked in confrontation as the North has steadily, through famine, leadership changes and crushing poverty, built its nuclear bomb programme.

So what has Sunday’s meeting done?

While it’s open to debate if Sunday’s meeting will be ultimately transforming, overall there has certainly been a sea change in the relationship between Trump and Kim — something Trump regularly mentions. To take it to the next level, John Delury, a Korea expert at Seoul’s Yonsei University, tweeted, “North Korea has to be made to feel less threatened, more secure, less under siege, more welcome in the world. ... For Donald Trump to meet with Kim Jong-un, however briefly, on a Sunday in the DMZ — a barren no man’s land that embodies the unhealed wound of post-Second World War division, the Korean War, and 70 years of animosity — advances the cause of ‘establishing new relations.’”

There’s also hope that even if this was mostly for the cameras, it can still push forward the diplomacy and help Kim build momentum domestically for stronger engagement — and possible disarmament.

Top 10 quotes from historic Trump-Kim meet

It was a historic first as Donald Trump stepped over a small concrete block onto North Korean soil. But the event was shrouded in uncertainty until just an hour before. Here are some of the key quotes from the hastily-arranged “third date” between the pair that was supposed to be a brief hello but turned out to be somewhat more substantive.

Very big stuff

“What’s going to happen is over the next two or three weeks, the teams are going to start working to see whether or not they can do something. Very big stuff. Pretty complicated, but not as complicated as people think.” (Trump on forthcoming talks)

Surprise date

“Some people say this meeting was pre-arranged through the letters you have sent me, but I myself, was surprised when yesterday morning you expressed the willingness to meet with me here” (Kim Jong-un).

High-stakes offer

“Knowing the press like I do, if he had decided not to come, you would have hit me.” (Donald Trump on the implications of a no-show from Kim).

Flowery rhetoric

“Reading the tweet, I felt that a flower of hope was fully blossoming on the Korean Peninsula” (South Korean President Moon Jae-in).

No fake news here

“He doesn’t do news conferences, in case you haven’t heard” (Donald Trump talking about Kim).

So how was it?

“Surreal” (Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, when asked how was North Korea).

A certain something

“For some reason we have a certain chemistry” (Trump talking about his unlikely bromance with Kim).

History in motion

“Stepping across that line was a great honour” (Trump after his historic step into North Korea).

One-day stand

“If it wasn’t for the great relationship with you, I don’t think this meeting would have been made possible in just one day.” (Kim on his connection with Trump)

Would you mind moving?

“Get the photographers out the way, for [expletive] sake” (Unknown journalist voicing frustration as North Korean snappers photobomb the historic shot).

Big day out

“This was a great day. This was a very legendary, very historic day.” (Trump seemed to have enjoyed his day trip to North Korea).

Pope says Trump-Kim meeting raises hopes for world peace

Pope Francis praised on Sunday the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and said he hoped it would lead to peace.

“In the last few hours we saw in Korea a good example of the culture of encounter. I salute the protagonists, with a prayer that such a significant gesture will be a further step on the road to peace, not only on that peninsula, but for the good of the entire world,” he told thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address and blessing.

Trump became the first sitting US president to set foot in North Korea on Sunday when he met its leader, Kim Jong-un, in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and agreed to resume stalled nuclear talks.

When he met the pope last year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is Catholic, relayed a verbal invitation from Kim to Francis for the pontiff to visit North Korea. Vatican officials have said the pope, who has made many appeals for rapprochement between the two Koreas, would consider such a trip under certain conditions if it could help the cause of peace. Moon said the pope, who is due to visit nearby Japan this year, told him he would “definitely answer” a formal, written invitation from Kim. Such an invitation is not believed to have been yet made.