US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have both touched down and are currently enjoying Singaporean hospitality ahead of tomorrow’s historic summit. But the road to get to this point has been far from smooth.
From trading schoolyard insults to threatening nuclear war, the relationship between America’s wheeler-dealer-in-chief and North Korea’s Supreme Leader has been fraught. But tomorrow’s summit signifies a dramatic shift in dynamics and could be the start of a blossoming relationship between the two countries.
So how did we get to this point?
From sweet to sour
What you may not remember, is that before all the mudslinging and threats, Trump expressed surprisingly warm and complimentary sentiment towards Kim.
In April, Trump called the young dictator a “smart cookie” and commended his ability to hold onto power despite heading the regime at the tender age of 26.
He also told Bloomberg he would “absolutely” meet with Kim and would, in fact, be “honoured” to do so.
But the niceties didn’t last long after Kim responded to Trump’s diplomacy with the launch of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 4, America’s Independence Day. The message from Kim didn’t hold back: “American b***ards would be not very happy with this gift sent on the July 4 anniversary.”
Fire and Fury
A month later came Trump’s now infamous “fire and fury” interview in which he threatened the North Korean regime with a destruction “like the world has never seen.”
Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2017
From there, it went from bad to worse and the name calling picked up a notch.
In his first address to the United Nations Security Council in September, Trump once again threatened to “totally destroy” Kim Jong Un and his country. It’s also the first time we hear “little rocket man” which was to become Trump’s favourite nickname for the man in charge of a nuclear arsenal.
Kim’s response, reported by the North’s state-run KCNA news agency, was predictably fiery and had everyone reaching for their dictionary with his use of the insult “dotard.” He also accused the US President of being a “gangster” who was “unfit” for office.
“Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation. I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire,” he said.
Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 22, 2017
The insults were reaching peak high school later in the year after Kim called Trump an “old lunatic” for allegedly exploiting the death of US student Otto Warmbier after his detention in North Korea.
Trump fired back with this classic tweet:
Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2017
On November 29, Kim’s dream of possessing a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to mainland United States was reportedly realised.
Defying repeated calls from the United Nations to cease tests, at 3am the military launched the Hwasong-15. Reports from state-media claimed it could carry “a super-large heavy warhead.”
The successful test gave Kim the Ace card he had so long craved, something he made clear in his New Year’s Day address to the nation in which he taunted the US president saying, “a nuclear button is always on my desk.”
Trump fired back with his “bigger & more powerful” nuclear button.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
New year, new Kim
In that same new year message, Kim also made the first steps towards reconciliation with his neighbours to the South. In it, he opens the road for talks with Seoul that leads to the two warring countries meeting for the first high-level talks in more than two years on January 9.
It was agreed that North Korean athletes would compete at the Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February. A North Korean delegation including Kim’s righthand man, Kim Yong Chol, and Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, also attended the event.
With ties warming on the Korean peninsula and a seemingly more genial Kim ready to reach out, a surprising change of tone emerged from the White House.
After North Korea expressed a willingness to denuclearise in March, Trump accepted an invitation from the regime to meet face to face. And they weren’t hanging around. The summit was initially scheduled for May, just a mere two months after the invite was extended and, what many experts thought, not nearly enough time to prep for such a critical and consequential meeting.
Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2018
North Korea promised to put a freeze on all missile and nuclear test in a sign of goodwill in the lead up to talks.
On April 27, Kim met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and became the first North Korean leader to cross into the South since the end of the Korean War. At the meeting, a loose agreement to work towards ending the war was arrived at. Both countries signed an armistice in 1953, rather than a peace treaty, meaning the war never officially ended.
As preparations for the Singapore summit were well underway, they hit a bump in the road.
On May 16, North Korea canned high-level talks with Seoul at the last minute as anger brewed over its joint military exercise with the US.
The North’s first Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan threatened to scrap the summit if Pyongyang was pushed towards “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”
US Vice-President Mike Pence tested Pyongyang’s resolve even further when he compared the regime to that of Libya, who saw leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi deposed and killed after he gave up his nuclear arsenal.
A scathing rebuke from Kim Kye Gwan, calling the VP “stupid and ignorant” and a “political dummy,” came on the same day that North Korea dismantled its nuclear test site at Punggye.
That proved enough to irk Trump, pushing him to the point of calling the whole thing off. He sent a letter to Kim explaining his decision to back out of talks.
A letter from the President to Chairman Kim Jong Un: "It is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting." pic.twitter.com/3dDIp55xu1
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 24, 2018
Due to the “tremendous anger and open hostility” expressed by North Korea, he decided to can the talks despite the “wonderful dialogue” that had developed between the two sides.
Trump did, however, leave the door open for North Korea to make amends, saying:
“If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.”
I have decided to terminate the planned Summit in Singapore on June 12th. While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world… pic.twitter.com/jT0GfxT0Lc
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2018
North Korea’s diplomatic and reasoned response ensured the spat was short lived.
Kim Kye Gwan once again stepped up to the plate, expressing surprise and regret over the cancellation of the planned summit.
“We would like to make known to the US side once again that we have the intent to sit with the US side to solve problems regardless of ways at any time,” he said.
The statement did the trick, with Trump quickly tweeting his approval of the statement.
Less than 24 hours after his cancellation letter, it looked like things were back on track with the president saying the White House was having “very productive” talks with the North Koreans and the summit would likely remain on the same day, June 12.
And that brings us up to today, the eve of what promises to be the Summit of the Century. What will come from these historic talks? We will just have to wait and see.