South Korea’s president and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un drove together through the streets of Pyongyang on Tuesday past thousands of cheering citizens before opening a summit where Moon Jae-in will seek to reboot stalled denuclearisation talks between his hosts and the United States.
Kim and Moon embraced at Pyongyang’s international airport – where the North Korean leader had supervised missile launches last year as tensions mounted.
The North’s unique brand of choreographed mass adulation was on full display as hundreds of people waved flags and banners depicting an undivided peninsula – while the South’s own emblem was only visible on Moon’s Boeing 747 aircraft.
Thousands of residents, holding bouquets and chanting in unison “Reunification of the country!”, lined the streets as Kim and Moon rode through the city in an open-topped vehicle, passing the Kumsusan palace where Kim’s predecessors – his father and grandfather – lie in state.
“I am acutely aware of the weight that we bear,” Moon told Kim as they opened two hours of formal talks at the headquarters of the ruling Workers’ Party, adding that he felt a “heavy responsibility”.
“The entire world is watching and I would like to show the outcome of peace and prosperity to the people around the globe,” said Moon, whose own parents fled the North during the Korean War that left the peninsula divided by the impenetrable Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) and technically in a state of conflict.
Addressing his visitor in respectful terms, Kim praised him for brokering his own historic Singapore summit with US president Donald Trump in June, adding: “This has led to stability in the region and I expect more progress between the US and the DPRK (North Korea).”
At the time, the North Korean leader declared his backing for the denuclearisation of the peninsula.
But no details were agreed and Washington and Pyongyang have since sparred over what that means and how it will be achieved.
The US is pressing for the North’s “final, fully verified denuclearisation”, while Pyongyang wants a formal declaration that the 1950-53 Korean War is over and has condemned “gangster-like” demands for it to give up its weapons unilaterally.