Kim Jong-un set to make historic steps into South Korea

Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in.
Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in. Photo credit: Getty

North Korea's Kim Jong-un is set to cross the heavily militarised border for the first summit with South Korea in more than a decade, as the old foes seek to end their decades-long conflict and ease tensions over the North's nuclear weapons program.

The summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in will set the stage for Mr Kim to meet with US President Donald Trump in late May or early June, in what will be an unprecedented first encounter between sitting leaders of the two countries.

Just months ago, Mr Trump and Mr Kim were trading threats and insults as North Korea's rapid advances in pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles capable of hitting the US raised fears of a fresh conflict on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea's Mr Moon will personally greet Mr Kim at the military demarcation line at 9:30am on Friday (local time), making Mr Kim the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The two will be escorted by South Korean honour guards to an official welcoming ceremony before beginning official dialogue at 10:30am at Peace House, a South Korean building inside the border truce village of Panmunjom.

In a dramatic gesture just days before the summit, Mr Kim announced North Korea would suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and dismantle its only known nuclear test site.

But scepticism is rampant about whether Mr 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.

South Korea hopes North Korea's leader on Friday will directly confirm his will for "complete" denuclearisation of the peninsula.

The two neighbours expect to release a joint statement late on Friday - possibly called the Panmunjom Declaration - that could address denuclearisation and peace, and an improvement in relations, South Korean officials said.

US President Donald Trump says he is considering three or four dates as well as five locations for his planned meeting with Mr Kim.

Mr Trump added that it remained unclear whether the meeting will still occur.

"It could be that I walk out quickly - with respect - but it could be. It could be that maybe the meeting doesn't even take place. Who knows. But I can tell you right now they want to meet," he told Fox News on Thursday.

Reuters