Trump upbeat ahead of today's high-stakes summit with Kim Jong Un
SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ ANN) - He talks about excitement in the air and how meeting could work out well
A day before he meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa, United States President Donald Trump did little to dispel the notion that a piece of history could be written today, by tweeting: "Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air."
The White House then said last night that Mr Trump would leave Singapore early tonight after the summit, suggesting that things were moving quickly and the talks could be wrapped up in a day.
After days of managing expectations on what this unprecedented meeting between a serving US President and the North Korean supremo might deliver, a nascent sense of euphoria - that some observers deem premature - is building up as the clock ticks towards 9am today, when the two leaders shake hands at Capella hotel.
It will be an unusual meeting, in keeping with President Trump's unconventional style, as the two men will first chat one-on-one - with only interpreters in attendance - before others from their teams join in. Mr Trump said last week that he will know "within the first minute" if Mr Kim, who is Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, is serious about giving up his nuclear weapons.
The issue acquired greater urgency after North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov 28 last year, which put almost the entire US within the range of its nuclear warheads.
Addressing the issue squarely yesterday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the stakesby telling the media at JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach: "A complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is the only outcome that the United States will accept." Until that happened, he said, the economic sanctions currently hurting the North Korean economy would remain in place.
"If diplomacy doesn't move in the right direction, sanctions will increase," Mr Pompeo added.
If North Korea agreed to dismantle its weapons programme, the US was willing to offer it "unique" security guarantees, said Mr Pompeo. "We will take actions to provide them sufficient certainty that they can be comfortable that denuclearisation is not something that ends badly for them. Just the opposite."
Earlier, the two camps met once more at The Ritz Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel to narrow their differences on the speed and scope of North Korea's denuclearisation before the two leaders meet today.
South Korean broadcaster KBS reported that the talks, fronted by US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim and North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, centred around Pyongyang moving its nuclear weapons out of the country in return for iron-clad security guarantees and sops from the US.
"The talks are moving quite rapidly," said Mr Pompeo.
Mr Shawn Ho, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said he was surprised by the tone and timing of Mr Pompeo's ultimatum, just one day before the summit, especially since the two camps had discussed the issue multiple times. "It seems like one last push by the US to get its way," he said. "It also seems there are still key differences in the two sides' definition of denuclearisation."
Meanwhile, the two men who will command centre stage today spent the eve of their summit differently. Mr Trump, who was greeted with a birthday cake when he met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for a working lunch at the Istana, three days before he turns 72, thanked him for Singapore's role in organising the summit. "We have a very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely," he said.
He also agreed to make a state visit to Singapore in November.
Mr Kim remained at his suite in The St Regis Singapore all day, before venturing out to Gardens by the Bay and the Sky Park at Marina Bay Sands late in the evening.
Today, they have a shot at history, or it is back to the drawing board.