North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greeted Moon Jae-in with hugs and smiles on Tuesday as the South Korean president arrived in Pyongyang for a third summit between the two, aimed at advancing faltering nuclear talks and officially ending the Korean War.
Hundreds of North Koreans wearing suits and traditional dresses also greeted Moon, carrying flowers and waving Korean peninsula and North Korean flags. A sign behind them read: "We ardently welcome President Moon Jae-in's visit to Pyongyang!"
The inter-Korean summit will be a litmus test for another meeting Kim has recently proposed to U.S. President Donald Trump, giving clues to whether Kim is serious about denuclearization, a commitment he made at their first encounter in June.
Trump has asked Moon to be "chief negotiator" between himself and Kim, according to Moon's aides, after Trump cancelled a trip to Pyongyang by his secretary of state last month.
Washington wants to see concrete action toward denuclearization by North Korea before agreeing to a key goal of Pyongyang — declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
"If North Korea-U.S. dialogue is restarted after this visit, it would have much significance in itself," Moon said before his departure.
Underscoring the challenges ahead, North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun said on Tuesday "the responsibility falls squarely on the United States" for the stalled nuclear discussions.
"It is due to its nonsensical, irrational stubbornness that other issues can only be discussed after our country has completely verifiably, irreversibly dismantled our nuclear capabilities... without showing the intention to build trust including declaring the end of war," the newspaper said in an editorial.
Moon, himself the offspring of a family displaced by the war, arrived at the North's capital of Pyongyang at about 10 a.m., greeted by Kim, his wife Ri Sol Ju and other top North Korean officials, before inspecting a large honor guard and a military band.
Moon and Kim were all smiles as they hugged and chatted with each other. Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of the leader and a key propaganda official, was seen preparing officials for Moon's arrival and accompanying Kim Jong Un and his wife.
The two leaders will sit down for formal talks after lunch, which will be followed by a musical performance and welcome dinner, a South Korean official said.
Accompanying corporate executives, including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee and the chiefs of SK Group and LG Group, will meet with North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Ryong Nam in charge of economic affairs.
On Wednesday, Moon and Kim are expected to unveil a joint statement, and a separate military pact designed to defuse tensions and prevent armed clashes. Moon will return home early Thursday.