Changyoon Suh moved to the Philadelphia area in 1983 from Seoul, South Korea, having never met many relatives who lived across the contentious border with North Korea.

So he pays special attention whenever that border is in the news, as it was Sunday after President Donald Trump crossed it to greet the beaming North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. It marked the first time a U.S. president had set foot in North Korea, which is widely viewed as an outlaw nation.

Could such interactions help thaw the tensions between North and South Korea, and between North Korea and the rest of the world?

“My opinion is, try everything the best way you can,” said Suh, 64, of West Chester. “Whatever works.”

Suh, whose father moved from North to South Korea during the Korean War while other relatives stayed behind, spoke on his way into services at Emmanuel Church in West Philadelphia, home to a largely Korean American congregation. Suh and several other members acknowledged the North Korean leader’s reputation as a brutal dictator, yet said it was better for the United States to maintain a dialogue with him than not.

Any de-escalation of tensions would also depend on the actions of China and Russia, given their support for the North Korean regime, Suh said.

Hee-Hyun Lee, another congregation member at Emmanuel, called the meeting between the two leaders “pleasantly surprising” but was unsure what might follow.

“This could be a good initiation,” said Lee, 49, of Wilmington, who moved to the area from Seoul in 2004. “It’s not clear, the path forward. It’s always good to have an open discussion.”

Hee-Hyun Lee, of Delaware, voices his opinion about President Trump becoming the first president to step inside North Korea, as he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Hee-Hyun Lee, of Delaware, voices his opinion about President Trump becoming the first president to step inside North Korea, as he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday.

The exchanges between Trump and Kim have ranged from belligerent to downright brotherly, to the alarm of many who worry about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Critics warn that Trump’s efforts have not resulted in reductions in Kim’s nuclear arsenal.

But Jae Shin, 50, of Wayne, said the antagonistic words between the two, though at times jarring, should not be cause for alarm.

“They don’t want to fight each other,” Shin said. “It’s just angry words as a starting point for talking."