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What a BYU expert on Korea says about President Trump's walk on the north side

President Donald Trump walks to the North Korean side of the border with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, Sunday, June 30, 2019, in North Korea. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump, left, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the North Korean side of the border at the village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, stand on the North Korean side of the border in the Demilitarized Zone, Sunday, June 30, 2019 in North Korea. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
Ivanka Trump, center, and White House adviser Jared Kushner, right, talk with people before the start of remarks from President Donald Trump to Korean business leaders in Seoul, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and views North Korea from the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Observation Post Ouellette at Camp Bonifas in South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and views North Korea from the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Observation Post Ouellette at Camp Bonifas in South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
Support helicopters follow the Marine One helicopter carrying President Donald Trump to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) as they take off from Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool) Jacquelyn Martin
The Marine One helicopter, top, carrying President Donald Trump to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) takes off from Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019, as a staff helicopter prepares en route to the DMZ. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool) Jacquelyn Martin
President Donald Trump, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands following their news conference at the Blue House in Seoul, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh
A cap showing letters of Panmunjom and Demilitarized Zone, is placed at a souvenir shop at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to meet for a handshake at the Demilitarized Zone separating the North and South, a day after issuing the unprecedented invitation and expressing willingness to cross the border for what would be a history-making photo op. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) Lee Jin-man
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

SALT LAKE CITY — An expert on Korean politics says it's "inconceivable" that any previous U.S. president would set foot in North Korea as President Donald Trump did over the weekend.

But it's hard to say whether Trump stepping across the border into North Korea with Kim Jong Un at his side will lead to a peace agreement or denuclearization, said BYU history professor Kirk Larsen.

"Whether you like Trump or you don't like Trump, he very clearly doesn't play by the rulebook. That can be good, that can be bad," he said.

FILE - President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

FILE - President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019.

"Does it really push negotiations in any real positive direction? I don't know," Larsen said. "But Trump is definitely a showman, and this is a good show."

Critics quickly denounced the made-for-television moment as a mere photo-op.

Trump and Kim talked in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea for about hour, marking the third face-to-face meeting between the two leaders. Trump said to expect more talks in the coming weeks.

"I would much rather see that than the threats of war that we had leading up to the first summit meeting," Larsen said. "But on the other hand, we haven't seen any real concrete progress toward a nuclear agreement or anything else."

Trump's tone toward North Korea has softened since Kim, who the president once called "little rocket man," threatened the U.S. with nuclear war two years ago.

Although the official demand is for complete denuclearization, there is some evidence that Trump would accept a freeze on nuclear weapons development and testing in the meantime, Larsen said.

FILE - President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

FILE - President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019.

"That, too, represents a softening," he said. "The only warning, obviously, is when you're dealing with as mercurial a personality as Trump, you never know what tomorrow might bring."

Kim, though, has been fairly predictable, he said.

"If I were to characterize who is the bigger wild card at this point, I have to say it's Trump," Larsen said.

On whether Kim would accept Trump's invitation to visit the White House, Larsen said: "Never say never."

Kim has proven more willing to travel abroad and meet with people than his father, the more reclusive Kim Jong Il, who didn't like to fly and only traveled by train, Larsen said.

But any visit to Washington would likely bring protesters, causing an image issue that would not be welcome in North Korea, he said, adding there would also be security concerns.

Larsen said Trump's meeting with Kim had a fairly positive reception in South Korea, though there was some feeling that South Korean President Moon Jae In was pushed aside.

Moon has reinvigorated the on-again, off-again decadeslong effort for reconciliation between the two Koreas.

"This visit probably doesn't hurt that but I don't know how much it helps that path," Larsen said. He noted that there can't be full engagement as long as international sanctions remain against North Korea.