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North and South Korea vow to end the Korean War in historic accord

Leaders of the two Koreas have agreed to end to the Korean War, 65 years after hostilities ceased, in a wide-ranging joint announcement struck Friday, that includes working towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un, signed the “Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula,” at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that has divided the two countries for more than six decades.

Following the signing ceremony, the two leaders clasped hands and hugged in a symbolic act of togetherness after a full day of meetings, including a 30-minute private conversation beamed live around world.

In separates speeches they promised a new era for the Korean Peninsula. Addressing the world’s media, Kim said the Koreas “will be reunited as one country.”

The three-page agreement promises to carry out disarmament in a phased manner with the ambition of establishing a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

The Koreas went to war in 1950 when soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army invaded the South. Although the armed conflict ended three years later in 1953, with the signing of an armistice agreement, no formal peace treaty was ever signed, and technically, the two remain at war.

“The two leaders solemnly declare … that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and a new era of peace has begun,” the declaration said.

The announcement, unthinkable only months ago, also included plans for Moon to travel to Pyongyang later this year.

The declaration also included:

  • Quadrilateral meetings to be held with the Koreas, the US and China “with a view to declaring and end to the War.”
  • All hostile acts will be ceased, and the demilitarization zone will be turned into a “peace zone.”
  • A commitment to reunite families separated by the war with family reunion programs to resume on August 15 this year.
  • The establishment of a joint liaison office in Kaeseong, a shared economic zone near the border.
  • Closer diplomatic relations between the two countries, at all levels of government.
  • Joint teams to be sent to international events, starting with the 2018 Asian Games.

Months in the making

The announcement comes after months of careful preparation in advance of the summit.

South Korea had scripted the meeting of the two leaders, down to the second, but it was Kim who delivered the most dramatic moment.

After he crossed the military demarcation line separating North and South Korea to shake hands with Moon, Kim invited him to step into the North.

The moment was greeted by gasps, cheers and applause from people watching it on a large screen in central Seoul, and at a conference center in nearby Ilsan, where the South Korean government had set up a sprawling media center for the thousands of journalists invited to watch history being made.

It was also perhaps the only spontaneous moment of this carefully choreographed affair, which the Blue House has been practicing and rehearsing for weeks.

“President Moon briefly crossed over the MDL to the North,” the Blue House said in a statement, referring to the military demarcation line. “This was not a planned event.”

Kim Hyun, spokeswoman for Moon’s Democratic Party, told reporters the “whole nation and entire world passionately cheered” the meeting, adding that Kim’s crossing onto South Korean soil would be “remembered as a deeply moving moment.”

Writing in 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.”

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.

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.