“Very, very good. Good relationship.” – Donald Trump, on his one-on-one meeting with Kim.
“I think the entire world is watching this moment. Many people in the world will think of this as a scene from a fantasy…science fiction movie.” – Kim Jong-un
“We overcame all kinds of scepticism and speculations about this summit and I believe that this is good for the peace. I believe this is a good prelude for peace.” – Kim Jong-un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump shook hands and smiled cautiously as they met at their historic summit in Singapore on Tuesday, in which the two men will look for ways to end a nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula.
Should they succeed in making a diplomatic breakthrough, it could bring lasting change to the security landscape of Northeast Asia, like the visit of former US President Richard Nixon to China in 1972 led to the transformation of China.
“Nice to meet you Mister President,” Kim said as he sat alongside Trump, against a backdrop of North Korean and US flags, beaming broadly as the US president gave him a thumbs up. Trump said he was sure they would have a “terrific relationship”.
With cameras of the world’s press trained on them, Trump and Kim displayed an initial atmosphere of bonhomie.
Kim replied: “Well, it was not easy to get here. The past has…placed many obstacles in our way but we overcame all of them and we are here today.”
Both men looked serious as they got out of their limousines for the summit at the Capella hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa, a resort island with luxury hotels, a casino, manmade beaches and a Universal Studios theme park.
But they were soon smiling and holding each other by the arm before Trump guided Kim to the library where they held a meeting with only their interpreters. Trump had said on Saturday he would know within a minute of meeting Kim whether he would reach a deal.
After some initial exchanges lasting around half-an-hour, Trump and Kim emerged, walking side-by-side through the colonnaded hotel before re-entering the meeting room, where they were joined by their most senior officials.
As the two leaders met, Singapore navy vessels and air force Apache helicopters patrolled, while fighter jets and a Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft circled.
Financial markets were largely steady in Asia and did not show any noticeable reaction to the start of the summit. The dollar was at a three-week high and the MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares was largely unchanged from Monday.
While Trump and Kim search each other’s eyes and words for signs of trust or deceit, the rest of the world will be watching, hoping that somehow these two unpredictable leaders can find a way to defuse one of the planet’s most dangerous flashpoints.
In the hours before the summit began, Trump expressed optimism about prospects for the first-ever meeting of sitting US and North Korean leaders, while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo injected a note of caution whether Kim would prove to be sincere about his willingness to denuclearise.
Officials of the two sides held last-minute talks to lay the groundwork for the summit of the old foes, an event almost unthinkable just months ago, when they were exchanging insults and threats that raised fears of war.
Staff-level meetings between the United States and North Korea were going “well and quickly,” Trump said in a message on Twitter on Tuesday.
But he added: “In the end, that doesn’t matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!”
The combatants of the 1950-53 Korean War are technically still at war, as the conflict, in which millions of people died, was concluded only with a truce.
On Tuesday morning, Pompeo fed the mounting anticipation of a diplomatic breakthrough, saying: “We’re ready for today.”
He earlier said the event should set the framework for “the hard work that will follow”, insisting that North Korea had to move toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.
North Korea, however, has shown little appetite for surrendering nuclear weapons it considers vital to the survival of Kim’s dynastic rule.
Sanctions on North Korea would remain in place until that happened, Pompeo said on Monday. “If diplomacy does not move in the right direction…those measures will increase.”
He added: “North Korea has previously confirmed to us its willingness to denuclearise and we are eager to see if those words prove sincere.”
The White House said later that discussions with North Korea had moved “more quickly than expected” and Trump would leave Singapore on Tuesday night after the summit, rather than Wednesday, as scheduled earlier.
Kim is due to leave on Tuesday afternoon, a source involved in the planning of his visit has said.
One of the world’s most reclusive leaders, Kim visited Singapore’s waterfront on Monday, smiling and waving to onlookers, adding to a more affable image that has emerged since his April summit with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.
The Swiss-educated leader, who is believed to be 34, has not left his isolated country since taking office in 2011, apart from visiting China and the South Korean side of the border Demilitarised Zone, which separates the two Koreas.
Just a few months ago, Kim was an international pariah accused of ordering the killing of his uncle, a half-brother and scores of officials suspected of disloyalty.
The summit was part of a “changed era”, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said in its first comments on the event.
Talks would focus on “the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean peninsula, the issue of realising the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern”, it added.
Ahead of the summit, North Korea rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament, and KCNA’s reference to denuclearisation of the peninsula has historically meant it wants the United States to remove a “nuclear umbrella” protecting South Korea and Japan.
Trump spoke to both South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to discuss developments ahead of the summit.
For Kim, the authoritarian leader of a militarised state that has shunned contact with the outside world, the ultimate goal aside from security guarantees would be freedom and support to develop an impoverished economy.
For Trump, achieving a momentous foreign policy success would cement his place in history.
Many experts on North Korea remain sceptical Kim will ever completely abandon nuclear weapons, believing his engagement aims to get the United States to ease crippling sanctions.
“The process could be doomed before it begins,” said Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association, adding that a common understanding of denuclearisation was key to success.
In their first moments of meeting each other, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un both sought to project a sense of command as they began a historic summit in Singapore, according to a body language expert.
Karen Leong, managing director of Singapore-headquartered Influence Solutions, said the first 60 seconds showed both leaders seeking to take charge in their encounter.
“Their handshake seems to be between peers,” she said.
“Trump seemed to be very aware of this, that he needed to up the stakes and be seen that he is the leader.”
Trump did most of the talking, and Kim appeared to listen attentively, turning to him three times during their walk toward their meeting room.
But he also patted the US president’ arm, in an attempt to show control over the encounter.
The US President, who is more than twice Kim’s age, then appeared to lead the way to the library where they held a one-on-one meeting, placing his hand on the North Korean leader’s counterpart’s back.
However, Leong said both found it difficult to conceal their nervousness once they were seated, with Trump displaying a slanted smile, and fidgeting with his hands and Kim leaning and staring at the ground.
Ahead of the meeting, Trump had said he would be able to work out within the first minute whether his North Korean counterpart was serious about making peace.
“I think that very quickly I’ll know that something good is going to happen,” Trump said in Canada where we met leaders of other G7 economies.
“I also think I’ll know if it’s going to happen fast – it may not, but I’ll know pretty quickly whether or not, in my opinion, something positive will happen.”