US President Donald Trump has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of their historic Singapore summit. It is the first time a sitting US president has met with the leader of the North Korean regime.
The two had stern looks on their faces as they clasped hands in front of a backdrop of US and North Korean flags arranged side-by-side. But the serious and sombre expression soon gave way to smiles and a warm greeting as the two pulled off to the side to enjoy a brief conversation alone before heading to the meeting room.
Creating the small press pool that was granted access, Trump seemed optimistic about the road forward saying he thought the two countries were going to have a “terrific relationship.”
He said the meeting would show if a “real deal” could happen.
Kim was also encouraging, sharing his commitment to end old grudges for the sake of making progress.
“The old prejudices and practices work as obstacles in our way forward,” he said through a translator.
From there, the pair made their way to the summit meeting room where they were joined by their respective teams.
At the table were Kim’s right-hand man, Kim Yong Chol.
Trump was accompanied by Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton. It was unclear if Bolton would be attending the talks as he is highly unpopular with the North Koreans. In the past, he has championed regime change in Pyongyang and recently nearly derailed the summit after comparing North Korean denuclearisation to the “Libya model.”
Experts have expressed concern that the set-up of the optics of the event are playing into the hands of North Korea. The affable handshake, the positioning of the flags and even the seating arrangement are indistinguishable from the meetings between two recognised states, said Senior Editor of the Diplomat, Ankit Panda.
But Asia Times Korean expert Nile Bowie argues that Kim has already achieved a position of incomparable greatness in North Korea and they will simply be viewing this with curious optimism, just like the rest of the world.
Kim has already consolidated his domestic political control and is widely viewed almost as a demigod status,” Bowie said.
“North Koreans will feel proud most of all that their leader is being seen on a par. I think they’ll be excited. There’s an air of cautious optimism in North Korea.”
South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in and prime minister Lee Nak-yeon watched the greeting live from Seoul. The look of happiness was clear on both their faces as Lee applauded the meet.
— Elise Hu (@elisewho) June 12, 2018
Moon said this morning: “I too spent a sleepless night. I, along with all our people, sincerely hope that it will be a successful summit that will open a new era of complete denuclearisation, peace and a new relationship between South Korea, North Korea and the United States.”
According to the White House, the pair will spend two hours alone together with only translators present, before an extended meeting with their negotiating teams.
Kim is expected to leave Singapore around 2pm this afternoon. Trump will have a press conference at 4pm before departing for Washington.