- President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday in a landmark summit in Singapore.
- The trip has been months in the making after a dramatic shift on the part of North Korea that began earlier this year.
After years of diplomatic wrangling, months of preparation, and weeks of uncertainty, President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday in a landmark summit in Singapore.
Moments after shaking Kim’s hand, Trump said the two would “have a terrific relationship.”
“I feel really great,” Trump said alongside Kim. “We’re going to have a great discussion.”
Kim seemed to echo the sentiment through an interpreter, saying: “Well, 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.”
Trump and Kim first met in front of cameras before meeting privately. The two eventually reappeared for cameras and signed an unspecified “comprehensive” letter. Trump said that he and Kim “developed a very special bond” during their talks and that he would “absolutely” invite Kim to the White House.
Hours before meeting Kim, Trump railed against naysayers who had criticized his decision to entertain Kim on the world stage. Human-rights groups and security experts have condemned the North Korean government for numerous violations over the years, and some feared Trump was providing Kim international credibility for little in return.
“The fact that I am having a meeting is a major loss for the U.S., say the haters & losers,” Trump said in a tweet. “We have our hostages, testing, research and all missile launches have stopped, and these pundits, who have called me wrong from the beginning, have nothing else they can say! We will be fine!”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has taken the role of a de facto mediator between the US and North Korea, reportedly said he could not sleep the previous night.
“I hope it will be a successful meeting that gives us a new era of denuclearization and peace, [a new era] for relations among South Korea, North Korea, and the United States,” Moon said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency and United Press International.
The meeting was the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader. The US, as part of a long-standing posture of isolating the North, had previously rejected the notion of meeting with the country’s authoritarian leaders.
Some former US officials threw cold water on the summit, calling it hastily arranged. Summits typically are not held until after extensive back-channel negotiations between lower-level officials. Trump’s approach, however, has turned the typical diplomatic norms upside down, which has rankled some policy experts.
- Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images
The dramatic first season on the Korean Peninsula
The meeting between Kim and Trump represented a stark shift from the fierce rhetoric the two leaders traded in 2017.
Last year, Pyongyang conducted a bevy of nuclear and missile tests that experts said was an indication the country was in the advanced stages of development. In 2017, it reportedly launched 23 missiles, including its first missile believed to be capable of reaching the US mainland.
Analysis compiled by the US Defense Intelligence Agency and reported by The Washington Post in August made that threat even more real, finding that Pyongyang had successfully created a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could fit on a missile. The country then conducted its most powerful nuclear test weeks later.
- KCNA/via REUTERS
At the start of 2018, however, North Korea signaled it was willing to normalize ties with South Korea and the US. After Pyongyang sent a delegation to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Kim indicated that he intended to thaw relations by agreeing to reestablish communication channels with the South. He met one-on-one with President Moon Jae-in in April.
“A new history starts now, an age of peace, from the starting point of history,” Kim wrote in a guest book at South Korea’s part of the border village of Panmunjom.
Moon and Kim signed the Panmunjom Declaration of Peace during that meeting, outlining broad agreements that hinted at bringing a formal end to the Korean War and to “boldly approach a new era of national reconciliation, peace, and prosperity.”
“The two leaders declare before our people of 80 million and the entire world there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and a new age of peace has begun,” the declaration said.
Trump: A master negotiator or the apprentice?
Trump and his officials have largely credited Kim’s willingness to conduct talks to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea. The US led sweeping sanctions that targeted the North’s imports and exports, creating an economic vice that is believed to have been felt by Kim and North Korea’s elite.
Proponents of the campaign agreed that the government was feeling the squeeze. Leading up to the summit, North Korea made several concessions, including the release of three Korean-American captives and the announced destruction of the country’s main nuclear test site.
“In 2017, [the US was] able to get more economic pressure on the regime than it’s ever felt before,” Victor Cha, a former director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council, told Time. “I was always of the view that that policy would work, because North Korea doesn’t tend to lash out militarily when they feel economic pressure. They want to come to the negotiating table and see how they can get that pressure taken off.”
Much to the chagrin of international activists, though, the Trump administration reportedly set aside the issue of North Korean human-rights violation ahead of the summit.
Little is known about Trump’s and Kim’s demands; however, the US previously advocated the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Kim, on the other hand, is believed to be pushing for a complete, verifiable, irreversible guarantee of North Korea’s security – an effort that would most likely include the removal of the US’s nuclear defense umbrella in South Korea.
The two leaders have often been compared to each other because of their unpredictable styles of governance. And North Korea’s pattern of behavior in reneging on previous agreements may be factored into any demand Trump and US diplomats will make.
Regardless of the route North Korea takes during the summit, and in the days afterward, Trump has signaled that even though talks between the two countries may be ongoing, time is of the essence.
“I feel that Kim Jong Un wants to do something great for his people, and he has that opportunity,” Trump told reporters in Singapore. “And he won’t have that opportunity again. It’s never going to be there again.”