Trump-Kim Singapore summit: Talks off to positive start after one-on-one meeting

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ ANN) - United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un emerged from a one-on-one meeting all smiles on Tuesday (June 12), an indication that their historic summit in Singapore was off to a positive start.

Shortly before 10am, the leaders came out of the library at the Capella Singapore hotel on Sentosa island where they met for about 45 minutes, and walked to a balcony to smile and wave at the gathered media

When asked how he felt,  Mr Trump said: "I feel really great.  We’re going to have a great discussion and, I think, tremendous success. It will be tremendously successful.  And it's my honour.  And we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt."

Mr Kim said: "It was not easy to get here.  The past worked as fetters on our limbs, and the old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward.  But we overcame all of them, and we are here today". 

As they were walking on the colonnade of the Capella hotel, Mr Kim, who is Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, was heard telling Mr Trump through a translator: “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.”

The day had started with a historic handshake between the two leaders at the summit venue.

At 9.03am, Mr Trump and Mr Kim strode into the courtyard at the hotel from separate sides, stood face to face for the first time and shared a 12-second handshake against a backdrop of American and North Korean flags.

The moment - tightly choreographed, with both men walking out at exactly the same time - was the culmination of weeks of uncertainty, false starts and finally, frenetic preparations on the part of the US, North Korea and Singapore. 

The leaders then appeared to share a few light-hearted words as they walked down a corridor to the hotel's library.

They met for around 45 minutes  in the one-on-one meeting with just translators present. Mr Trump and Mr Kim then moved on to a different room for an expanded bilateral meeting and working lunch. 

The two delegations are sitting across a nearly 80-year-old, 4.3m-long teak wood table formerly used by the Chief Justice of Singapore in the daily administration of the court. It has been loaned by the Singapore National Gallery to the US Embassy.

The US delegation includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, and National Security Council senior director for Asia Matt Pottinger will join the working lunch.

The North Korean delegation includes vice-chairman of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, Mr Kim Yong Chol, party vice-chairman and director of North Korea's International Affairs Department Ri Su Yong, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui.

PRE-SUMMIT PREPARATIONS

North Korea's Ms Choe and US Ambassador Kim led a working-level meeting at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel on Monday morning (June 11) to finalise details of the summit.

Expectations of what the summit could producerun the gamut, with observers expecting both leaders to take a flexible approach.

While there has been talk of a denuclearisation deal in exchange for security guarantees and a treaty formally ending the Korean War, experts think the more likely outcome is a broad agreement without set targets - similar to the one released after Mr Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae In in April.

Mr Trump, who has described the talks as a "one-time" shot at peace, has said the summit could end up just being a first date of sorts - the start of a long process.

"I think the minimum would be a relationship. We'd start at least a dialogue," he said as he was departing the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Canada on Sunday.

The contentious nature of the G-7 talks has led to speculation that the American President could be under pressure to produce a successful meeting on Tuesday.

Reports suggest the two leaders could issue mutual invites to Pyongyang and the White House.

Earlier concerns that the summit could end abruptly now appear unfounded. Mr Trump has said he would know how well it was going within a minute of meeting Mr Kim.

"You know the way they say you know if you're going to like somebody in the first five seconds? Well, I think that very quickly I'll know whether or not something good is going to happen... And if I think it won't happen, I'm not gonna waste my time - I don't want to waste his time."

At a press conference in Singapore on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula was the "the only outcome that the United States will accept" if it is to reach any agreement.

"North Korea has previously confirmed to us its willingness to denuclearise, and we are eager to see if those words prove sincere," he added.

Mr Kim has said little publicly about his hopes for the meeting, though many observers think he will not be willing to unilaterally give up Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

North Korea's state media said its leader will discuss a "permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism" on the Korean peninsula, denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern "as required by the changed era". KCNA also said that Pyongyang wants to establish "new" relations with the US.

The fact that Mr Trump and Mr Kim sat down for a face-to-face meeting marks a significant turnaround from last year when the two sides traded insults and threats, and Pyongyang conducted a series of ballistic missile tests.

It also marked a diplomatic landmark between the two countries with a long history of tense ties. The 1950-53 Korean War ended without an official peace treaty. Previous US presidents have made several attempts to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons, without success.

Two major diplomatic efforts - an agreement in 1994 and six-party talks in the 2000s - were ultimately abandoned, with both sides either failing to agree or accusing the other of not abiding by the terms of the agreements.

Hence, there had been doubt that Tuesday's summit would even happen. After all, on May 24, Mr Trump abruptly cancelled the planned meeting, only to reinstate it a week later after talks between officials from both sides.

TIGHT SECURITY, BUZZ IN THE CITY 

There has been an unprecedented level of security around the summit venue and the two luxury hotels where the leaders stayed after they arrived in Singapore on Sunday (June 10). 

Roads and expressways leading from The St Regis Singapore and Shangri-La hotels were locked down on Tuesday morning as the two leaders made their way to the meeting, with many people gathered at different spots along the route, trying to catch a glimpse of the two leaders.

Property agent Joe Tham, 48, and his wife, who had waited outside Paya Lebar Air Base on Sunday for Mr Trump's arrival, brought chairs for the wait for Mr Kim in Tanglin Road.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment... it's very important to Singapore, and we want to be a part of it, to witness it," he said.

Housewife Gladys Tan, 55, who lives near Shangri-La Hotel, said it was her second time waiting for Mr Trump, but she still could not see him through the tinted car window.

"I tried very, very hard but the glass is so black, I couldn't see anything. Or maybe my eyesight is just poor... I couldn't wave at him so I waved at the policemen on motorbike. Consolation prize!" she said.

The perimeter of the Capella hotel has been fortified with road blocks on one side. Coast guard vessels patrolled the waters off the resort's beach.

Some curious onlookers turned up early on Sentosa to catch a glimpse of the convoys. Among them were students Gideon Tan, 16, Aryan Singh, 16, and Joshua Tan, 17.

Joshua, a keen reader of politics and history, said it would be ideal if Mr Kim could commit to immediate denuclearisation and he  hopes that Mr Trump can provide the security assurance that North Korea wants. 

About 5,000 Home Team officers have been deployed for the summit.

All in, Singapore spent about $20 million to host the historic meeting, which included picking up the North Korean contingent's hotel bill.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the significance of the meeting meant it was a price that Singapore was willing to pay.

"If you calculate the price of everything in this world, you will miss out on the real important things. And, in this case, what is important is that the summit is held, and we are hosting it, not extravagantly but with due consideration to costs, but making sure operational requirements are met," he said. 

Mr Trump and Mr Kim thanked Singapore for hosting the summit during separate bilateral meetings with PM Lee at the Istana.

The two leaders are expected to depart Singapore later on Tuesday.

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