SEOUL (REUTERS, KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AFP) - It was a historic handshake that Koreans had waited more than a decade to see – and it sparked a completely unscripted dance with the two leaders hopping back and forth over the border that divides their nations.
Everything about the inter-Korean summit had been minutely choreographed and rehearsed but the North’s Kim Jong Un went off-script when he invited his southern counterpart Moon Jae In to join him over the border.
After a prolonged clasp lasting almost half a minute over the Military Demarcation Line that acts as the border, a beaming Moon invited his guest over to South Korea.
Kim then beckoned Moon over to the other side. Moon seemed initially hesitant but the North’s jovial young leader was not taking “no” for an answer, grabbing his hand and accompanying him across the border before they warmly shook hands again.
A group of South Korean press who were temporarily allowed to enter the North Korean side of the border to cover the historical encounter, took pictures of the two as they turned around towards them.
Grinning broadly, the pair then crossed back to the South hand-in-hand, in a remarkable image of unity.
The two were handed flowers by a South Korean boy and girl, students of an elementary school situated in the South's border town of Daeseong-dong, which is the only South Korean village within the demilitarised zone.
The North Korean leader handed the flowers to his sister Kim Yo Jong, a member of the summit delegation.
More off-the-cuff moments followed as the leaders coralled the two delegations into an apparently unscheduled “team photo”.
It all went to show that even for a moment as carefully planned as the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade, where the North’s nuclear arsenal will be high on the agenda, the best-laid preparations rarely run totally to schedule.
South Korean officials had carried out a full dress rehearsal on the eve of the summit, including stand-ins for the two leaders.
“We examined every single detail including lighting and flower decorations,” a Moon spokesman said.
Even the smell of the summit room received careful attention, with officials “scattering onions and charcoal on the floors and running many electric fans to remove the odour” of new paint.
A North Korean security team made preparations of its own, Seoul said, sterilising the chair Kim was to sit in to sign a guest book and wiping down its seat, armrest and legs with a white cloth.
Cold buckwheat noodles
The welcoming ceremony dripped with symbolism as the two men walked down a red carpet through an honour guard of South Korean soldiers colourfully dressed in traditional uniform lifting up banners as they went through.
They were also greeted by a military band, Moon saluting and Kim standing rather awkwardly not quite to attention, the first North Korean leader to inspect an honour guard from the South.
The pair seemed to share several relaxed moments, with Kim at one point breaking into a laugh as Moon pointed something out with a gesture during the ceremony, and the visitor from Pyongyang joking about noodles during his summit opening remarks as his sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong took notes.
There were also moments of unexpected comedy as Yo Jong and another delegation member following the two leaders realised they were in shot and wildly swerved off to the side.
And the live TV pictures of the two leaders inspecting a picture of Mount Kumgang in North Korea were obstructed by a photographer standing in the way.
There was some awkwardness too as Kim took an age to sign the guest book, with Moon standing by seemingly not knowing where to look. But also brief moments of tenderness, with Moon several times gently guiding his guest with a light hand on the back.
Their lingering handshake contrasted sharply with the greeting in 2000 between the current leader’s father Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung, a vigorous two-handed pumping affair lasting around five seconds.
The 2007 version was slightly more muted – three seconds and only one hand – as Kim Jong Il welcomed Roh Moo Hyun in Pyongyang.
The North has since made rapid progress in its weapons programmes, last year detonating its sixth and by far most powerful nuclear blast and launching missiles bringing the US mainland into range.
At times of tension, Pyongyang has threatened to unleash the “treasured sword” of its atomic arsenal and turn Seoul and the US into a “sea of flames”.
Scepticism has been rampant about whether Kim is ready to abandon the hard-earned nuclear arsenal his country has defended and developed for decades as what it says is a necessary deterrent against US invasion.
Moon travelled to the meeting in a large motorcade, stopping briefly to greet dozens of summit supporters waving South Korean flags near the Blue House.
Hundreds of demonstrators were seen gathering in downtown Seoul from early morning to protest or support the summit.
But the image that lingered on Friday was that of the two leaders hand-in-hand, walking across the border to the South toward a summit many hope could lead to a more peaceful future.