US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore on Tuesday in a historic summit that could lead to peace between the two countries that have technically been at war for 68 years or end in new recriminations.
The meeting was the first time a serving US president sat down with the leader of North Korea, and came just months after fears of conflict soared as the two traded personal insults and threats of war.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump shook hands and smiled cautiously as they met at their historic summit in Singapore on Tuesday, in which the two men will look for ways to end a nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula.
Should they succeed in making a diplomatic breakthrough, it could bring lasting change to the security landscape of Northeast Asia, like the visit of former U.S. President Richard Nixon to China in 1972 led to the transformation of China.
"Nice to meet you Mister President," Kim said as he sat alongside Trump, against a backdrop of North Korean and U.S. flags, beaming more broadly as the U.S. president gave him a thumbs up. Trump said he was sure they would have a "terrific relationship"
With cameras of the world's press trained on them, Trump and Kim displayed an initial atmosphere of bonhomie.
"I feel really great," Trump said. "It's gonna be a great discussion and I think tremendous success. I think it's gonna be really successful and I think we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt."
Kim replied: "Well, it was not easy to get here. The past has ... placed many obstacles in our way but we overcame all of them and we are here today."
Both men looked serious as they got off their limousines for the summit at the Capella hotel on Singapore's Sentosa, a resort island with luxury hotels, a casino, manmade beaches and a Universal Studios theme park.
But they were soon smiling and holding each other by the arm, before Trump guided Kim to the library where they held a meeting with only their interpreters.
Financial markets were largely steady in Asia and did not show any noticeable reaction to the start of the summit. The dollar was at a three-week high and the MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares was largely unchanged from Monday.
The one-on-one between Trump and Kim will be followed by a wider meeting that includes officials from the two sides before the teams hold a working lunch.
While Trump and Kim search each other's eyes and words for signs of trust or deceit, the rest of the world will be watching, hoping that somehow these two unpredictable leaders can find a way to defuse one of the planet's most dangerous flashpoints.OPTIMISM, CAUTION
In the hours before the summit began, Trump expressed optimistism about prospects for the first-ever meeting of sitting U.S. and North Korean leaders, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo injected a note of caution whether Kim would prove to be sincere about his willingness to denuclearise.
Officials of the two sides held last-minute talks to lay the groundwork for the summit of the old foes, an event almost unthinkable just months ago, when they were exchanging insults and threats that raised fears of war.
Staff-level meetings between the United States and North Korea were going "well and quickly," Trump said in a message on Twitter on Tuesday.
But he added: "In the end, that doesn't matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!"
The combatants of the 1950-53 Korean War are technically still at war, as the conflict, in which millions of people died, was concluded only with a truce.
On Tuesday morning, Pompeo fed the mounting anticipation of diplomatic breakthrough, saying: "We're ready for today."
He earlier said the event should set the framework for "the hard work that will follow", insisting that North Korea had to move toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.
North Korea, however, has shown little appetite for surrendering nuclear weapons it considers vital to the survival of Kim's dynastic rule.
Sanctions on North Korea would remain in place until that happened, Pompeo said on Monday. "If diplomacy does not move in the right direction ... those measures will increase."
He added: "North Korea has previously confirmed to us its willingness to denuclearise and we are eager to see if those words prove sincere."
The White House said later that discussions with North Korea had moved "more quickly than expected" and Trump would leave Singapore on Tuesday night after the summit, rather than Wednesday, as scheduled earlier.
Kim is due to leave on Tuesday afternoon, a source involved in the planning of his visit has said.
One of the world's most reclusive leaders, Kim visited Singapore's waterfront on Monday, smiling and waving to onlookers, adding to a more affable image that has emerged since his April summit with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.
The Swiss-educated leader, who is believed to be 34, has not left his isolated country since taking office in 2011, apart from visiting China and the South Korean side of the border Demilitarised Zone, which separates the two Koreas.'CHANGED ERA'
Just a few months ago, Kim was an international pariah accused of ordering the killing of his uncle, a half-brother and scores of officials suspected of disloyalty.
The summit was part of a "changed era", North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency said in its first comments on the event.
Talks would focus on "the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean peninsula, the issue of realising the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern", it added.
Ahead of the summit, North Korea rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament, and KCNA's reference to denuclearisation of the peninsula has historically meant it wants the United States to remove a "nuclear umbrella" protecting South Korea and Japan.
Trump spoke to both South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to discuss developments ahead of the summit.
For Kim, the authoritarian leader of a militarised state that has shunned contact with the outside world, the ultimate goal aside from security guarantees would be freedom and support to develop an impoverished economy.
For Trump, achieving a momentous foreign policy success would cement his place in history.
Many experts on North Korea remain sceptical Kim will ever completely abandon nuclear weapons, believing his engagement aims to get the United States to ease crippling sanctions.
"The process could be doomed before it begins," said Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association, adding that a common understanding of denuclearisation was key to success.
While Trump is pushing for complete, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea, Kim is likely be eager to strike an agreement that eases sanctions and brings an end to the Korean War, while allowing him to keep at least part of his nuclear arsenal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said “sanctions will increase” if talks don’t move in the right direction.Here are the live updates:
8.20 am: Three South Korean protesters outside the Capella Hotel are demanding Kim Jong Un free the remaining hostages from the Korean war, reports South China Morning Post.
7. 50 am: “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 denuclearization, peace and a new relationship between South Korea, North Korea and the United States,” says South Korean President Moon Jae-In, reports Yonhap news agency.
This is the second meeting after 45-minute one-on-one talks between the two leaders with only their interpreters.
7.29 am: “There will be challenges ahead,” says Kim Jong Un, but vows to work with Trump.
According to Reuters, Kim is heard telling Trump through a translator: “I think the entire world is watching this moment. Many people in the world will think of this as a scene from a fantasy...science fiction movie.”
7.28 am: Donald Trump predicts that he and Kim Jong Un ‘will solve a big problem, a big dilemma’.
7. 26 am: Trump says one-on-one meeting with Kim Jong Un was ‘very, very good,’ says they have an ‘excellent relationship’.
7. 25 am: Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk together along balcony after one-on-one meeting.
7.23 am: Closed-door meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un concludes, reports CNN.
7.15 am: Go into the meeting with Kim Jong Un with your “heart on the table,” and focus on the future: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman advice to Donald Trump as he appears on TV channel CNN .
Rodman is one of the few westerners to have met the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang. The former star has made five trips to North Korea’s capital since Kim took power and flew into Singapore on Monday for the historic summit.
7.10 am: Video of Donald Trump shaking hands with Kim Jong Un out for Media.
6.50 am: Closed door meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump underway, reports TV channel CNN.
6.46 am: Kim Jong Un says “we came here after overcoming” all the obstacles.
Kim says through an interpreter: “It wasn’t easy for us to come here. There was a past that grabbed our ankles and wrong prejudices and practices that at times covered our eyes and ears. We overcame all that and we are here now.”
6.43 am: Trump says, “we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.”
“I feel really great. It’s gonna be a great discussion and I think tremendous success. I think it’s gonna be really successful and I think we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt,” Trump responds when asked how he felt in the first minute.
6.40 am: “Nice to meet you Mr President,” says Kim Jong Un as he sits down alongside Donald Trump.
6.39 am: Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pose for photographs together at summit site in Singapore.
6.36 am: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shake hands as historic summit begins.
6.27 am: Kim Jong Un steps out of limousine at venue for summit.
6.16 am: Ahead of summit,Donald Trump tweets that his top economic advisor Larry Kudlow has suffered a heart attack.
6.07 am: Trump is scheduled to meet Kim for the first time at 9 am local time (6.30 am IST)
6.05 am: The two leaders are expected to share a handshake before they meet alone with a pair of interpreters for roughly 45 minutes while their entourages wait nearby.
6.04 am: Kim Jong Un’s convoy arrives at summit venue. His black armored limousine with two large North Korean flags is surrounded by police vehicles, their lights flashing, and other black cars.
5.50 am: Donald Trump arrives at Capella Hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, a resort island off Singapore’s port with luxury hotels.