- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2018

SINGAPORE — With a firm handshake and gentle smiles, President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un came face-to-face Tuesday on this tropical island, kicking off a historic summit on denuclearization that was unthinkable six months ago.

They met alone on a veranda of the luxurious Capella Hotel for the handshake and greeting. Standing in front of a row of a dozen U.S. and North Korean flags, they both appeared relaxed and confident when they turned to face a battery of news photographers.

As the meeting began a short time later, Mr. Trump said he felt “really great” about the talks.

“We are going to have a terrific relationship,” the president said.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Kim observed that “it wasn’t easy to get here.”

He said that the practices of the past “acted as obstacles on our way forward but we overcame all of those.”

SEE ALSO: Dennis Rodman, overcome with emotion, praises Trump for meeting with Kim

“That’s true,” said Mr. Trump, who was upbeat about a potential deal but said the onus was on Mr. Kim to seize this rare opportunity to change the course of history.

“Meetings between staffs and representatives are going well and quickly … but in the end, that doesn’t matter,” Mr. Trump tweeted before heading to the powwow. “We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim huddled at their highly anticipated one-on-one meeting, putting unprecedented offers on the table in an attempt to move toward peace and the elimination of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

The amount of progress they would make toward denuclearization was unknown. But at least for now, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim appeared to have eased nearly 70 years of tension and conflict between their two countries.

There were even suggestions from both the U.S. and North Korea of opening diplomatic offices in each other’s capital.

Mr. Kim has made a commitment to eliminating nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, but his true intention is unknown.

In advance of the summit, Mr. Kim did agree to halt nuclear and missile tests, destroyed a nuclear test site and released three U.S. citizens held prisoner in North Korea.

As the teams of U.S. and North Korean negotiators completed final preparations Monday for the high-stakes meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the discussions had progressed “even more quickly than we had anticipated.”

After the private meeting that last about 45 minutes, the two leaders and their delegations met in a bilateral meeting. The Trump team included Mr. Pompeo, White Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, who is the team’s fiercest Korea hawk.

A working lunch was next on the schedule and would including White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders; Ambassador Sung Kim, a veteran U.S. diplomat who has served as a special envoy on North Korea policy; and Matt Pottinger, a National Security Council senior director for Asia.

The White House had announced that Mr. Trump would leave Singapore on Tuesday night, earlier than expected. The scheduling change followed reports that Mr. Kim had set a deadline of Tuesday afternoon for departing Singapore, and Mr. Pompeo seemed to lower expectations before the meeting by saying the U.S. side hoped the summit would “set the conditions for future successful talks.”

The president had predicted that he would know within the first minute of meeting Mr. Kim whether a successful deal is possible. Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that he is willing to walk away if he believes North Korea isn’t serious about giving up its weapons of mass destruction.

He also has said it will be a sign that the meeting didn’t go well if he emerges uttering the phrase “maximum pressure,” a signal that he believes more sanctions against North Korea are necessary.

In a tweet Tuesday, the president also hit back at people he called “haters and losers” who have criticized Mr. Trump for holding the summit in first place. He noted that North Korea released three American captives and halted its weapons activities ahead of the summit.

“The fact that I am having a meeting is a major loss for the U.S., say the haters & losers,” the president tweeted. “We have our hostages, testing, research and all miss[i]le launches have stop[p]ed and these pundits, who have called me wrong from the beginning, have nothing else they can say! We will be fine!”

The reclusive 34-year-old Mr. Kim, making only his fourth trip outside his country since taking power in 2011, went out on the town with a large security entourage on the eve of meeting Mr. Trump. He posed for selfies and visited the 57th floor of a luxury hotel to enjoy the nighttime views of Singapore, an island city-state off southern Malaysia known as a global financial center.

Sizing up each other at the first-ever meeting between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim sought to bridge decades of threats and mistrust. With so much at stake, both sides took once-unthinkable steps to close the trust gap.

In a rare move, North Korean state-run news media told the North Korean people that Mr. Kim was attending the summit with Mr. Trump to respond to a “changing era” by seeking a new relationship with the U.S. and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

It was the top story, and the only story, on a television channel that is the only one available to many viewers in the isolated communist country. North Koreans had been kept largely in the dark about the summit, and a senior U.S. official called the development remarkable.

On the U.S. side of the divide, Mr. Pompeo said the president was offering unique security assurances that would convince Mr. Kim that his country doesn’t need nuclear weapons.

“We are prepared to take actions that will provide them with sufficient certainty that they will be comfortable with denuclearization,” Mr. Pompeo said on the eve of the summit.

He refused to elaborate, leaving the world to guess whether the American military — with about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea — might step away from East Asia or find another means to assuage North Korea’s stated fears of a U.S. invasion.

One possibility heading into the summit was an agreement to formally end the Korean War. An armistice ended fighting on July 27, 1953.

Mr. Pompeo reiterated Monday that the ultimate U.S. objective remains “the complete, and verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

He called it “the only outcome that the United States will accept” and said sanctions will remain until full denuclearization is achieved.

If diplomacy “does not move in the right direction,” Mr. Pompeo said, sanctions will increase.

Mr. Trump has called this moment a rare opportunity for change in North Korea. He said the summit is a “one-shot” chance to resolve the nuclear threat and bring peace and prosperity to the reclusive and poverty-stricken communist country.

“I just think it’s going to work out very nicely,” the president said during a meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

A year ago, the chances of face-to-face talks between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim seemed remote. North Korea carried out multiple missile tests last year in violation of U.N. resolutions and detonated a hydrogen bomb test underground.

Mr. Kim threatened to attack the U.S. with long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles; Mr. Trump vowed that any such attack would be met by the U.S. with “fire and fury.” The president ridiculed Mr. Kim as “little rocket man,” and Mr. Kim called the president a “dotard.”

Since taking office in January 2017, Mr. Trump embarked on what he called a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions and a military buildup to try to force Pyongyang to change its behavior. He especially pressured China, which is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner, to comply with international economic and financial sanctions to help squeeze Pyongyang.

The meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim began to take shape in the wake of the Winter Olympics, hosted by South Korea in February. North Korea sent a team of athletes to the games with the blessing of Mr. Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

In March, a South Korean delegation arrived at the White House to convey a startling offer from Mr. Kim: an invitation to meet Mr. Trump in person. Mr. Trump accepted immediately, putting into motion a series of secret, high-level negotiations that included two trips by Mr. Pompeo to North Korea.

At the conclusion of Mr. Pompeo’s second trip, on May 9, he returned to the U.S. with three Americans who had been held captive and were released by North Korea as a goodwill gesture.

After the summit was scheduled for Singapore, Mr. Trump canceled it three weeks ago, citing North Korea’s hostile rhetoric toward the U.S., including insults directed at Vice President Mike Pence. But North Korea quickly asked to restart the talks and sent a top official to the U.S. two weeks ago to meet with Mr. Pompeo and the president.

Republican lawmakers said Mr. Trump deserves credit for getting Mr. Kim to the bargaining table.

“Denuclearization does not happen overnight, and we must continue pressuring the Kim regime until verifiable concessions are made,” said Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “What follows in the months and years to come is even more critical. While the progress made leading up to this historic meeting is cause for optimism, North Korea has a history of making promises and then breaking them that cannot be overlooked.”

Dave Boyer reported from Washington.

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