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PYONGYANG, North Korea — A smiling Kim Jong Un embraced South Korean President Moon Jae-in upon his arrival Tuesday in Pyongyang for their third summit, as thousands of North Koreans holding flower bouquets waved national and unification flags and an honor guard quick-marched into tight lines.
Amid the pomp and smiles, Moon will be looking to settle some lofty goals, including resolving deadlocked nuclear diplomacy, easing a military standoff and promoting peace on a peninsula many feared was close to war last year.
Moon said ahead of his trip that he will push for “irreversible, permanent peace” and for better dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington during “heart-to-heart” talks with Kim. Moon’s chief of staff, however, played down the chance that Moon’s summit with Kim will produce major progress in nuclear diplomacy.
The plane carrying Moon left Seoul on Tuesday morning and flew in an indirect route off the west coast of the peninsula before turning inland and arriving at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport about 80 minutes later, Moon’s office said. About 150 business, entertainment and sports leaders streamed onto the aircraft before it departed.
Moon and his wife, Kim Jung-sook, were greeted by Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju. The North Korean leader then led his guests to meet some of his senior officials, and they exchanged mutual greetings. As a military band played a rousing march, thousands of North Koreans, lined up in neat rows and dressed in black suits and traditional hanboks, cheered and waved bouquets of artificial flowers, the North Korean flag and a white-and-blue flag with a map symbolizing a unified Korean Peninsula. North Korean soldiers and naval troops quick-marched into position to welcome Moon, and the two leaders inspected the honor guard, according to South Korean media pool footage from the site. A signboard said, “We ardently welcome President Moon Jae-in.”
Since taking office in May last year, Moon has met Kim twice at the Koreas’ shared border village of Panmunjom. His Pyongyang trip makes him the third South Korean leader to visit North Korea’s capital for an inter-Korean summit since the peninsula was divided into a Soviet-backed North and U.S.-backed South at the end of World War II in 1945. The two countries fought a bloody three-year war five years later after a North Korean sneak attack. Moon and Kim are both pushing a reluctant Washington to sign off on formally ending the war with a peace treaty.
Moon’s two late liberal predecessors, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, went to Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007, respectively, to meet Kim’s dictator father Kim Jong Il. Those trips produced a slew of inter-Korean rapprochement projects. But they were later suspended after conservatives took power in Seoul with hardline policies toward the North. Kim Jong Un took office in late 2011 upon the death of his father.
Moon is to meet Kim at least twice — later Tuesday and then again on Wednesday. Kim is expected to show up at Tuesday’s welcoming ceremony for Moon at the Pyongyang airport, Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok told reporters Monday.
Im said he expects Moon and Kim to jointly announce the results of their talks on Wednesday if their meetings go smoothly. Moon is to return home on Thursday.
“This summit would be very meaningful if it yielded a resumption of North Korea-U.S. talks,” Moon said Tuesday morning just before his departure. “It’s very important for South and North Korea to meet frequently, and we are turning to a phase where we can meet anytime we want.”
While presiding over a meeting with top advisers on Monday, Moon said he “aims to have lots of heart-to-heart talks” with Kim and achieve “irreversible, permanent peace that is not shaken by international politics.”