‘Get­ting a good pic­ture?’: Trump, the pro­ducer in chief

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - PHILIP RUCKER philip.rucker@wash­post.com Avi Selk in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

“His peo­ple, you see the fer­vor. They have a great fer­vor.”

Pres­i­dent Trump in an ABC in­ter­view, re­fer­ring to Kim Jong Un

singapore — As their friendly visit here Tues­day drew to a close, Pres­i­dent Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took seats along a flower-adorned ma­hogany ta­ble to sign an over­size sheet of pa­per.

Be­fore the states­men was a “very im­por­tant” and “pretty com­pre­hen­sive” doc­u­ment, in the words of Trump, who etched his jagged sig­na­ture onto it with a thick black Sharpie.

Kim was just as grandiose, call­ing the giant procla­ma­tion “his­toric” as he left his mark, but only af­ter a white-gloved North Korean of­fi­cial had per­son­ally in­spected and swabbed the pen that had been set for him. Kim’s sis­ter then re­placed the pen, which bore Trump’s sig­na­ture, with one of her own, at­ten­tive to the se­cu­rity and au­ton­omy of the supreme leader.

What ex­actly the two men signed with a flour­ish — A peace treaty? An agree­ment for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons? A vague claim of mo­men­tum be­tween the two coun­tries? — re­mained a mys­tery for more than two hours, un­til Trump re­vealed it at his grand-finale news con­fer­ence.

To learn the out­come of the land­mark Singapore sum­mit, the world had to stay tuned in. This, af­ter all, was a Donald J. Trump pro­duc­tion.

The nearly nine hours the pres­i­dent spent sum­mit­ing at the flag-adorned Capella ho­tel here Tues­day over­flowed with Trumpian hall­marks, from his chore­ographed first hand­shake with Kim on an end­less red car­pet to the pro­pa­ganda-style video he played at the start of his vic­tory-lap back-and-forth with the press.

A for­mer tele­vi­sion re­al­i­tyshow pro­ducer, Trump has long had a thirst for the dra­matic and an eye for the cin­e­matic. As he stepped along a grand colon­nade to greet Trump for the first time, a dozen al­ter­nat­ing Amer­i­can and North Korean flags neatly ar­rayed be­hind them, Kim re­marked through an in­ter­preter that many peo­ple might say the scene was fan­tas­ti­cal — like “a sci­ence-fic­tion movie.”

As or­ches­trated as the day was, how­ever, it in­cluded plenty of un­scripted mo­ments and light­hearted ban­ter, as well. When the two gath­ered in a din­ing room for lunch, Trump mo­tioned to the nearby cam­era­men.

“Get­ting a good pic­ture, ev­ery­body?” the pres­i­dent asked. “So we look nice and hand­some and thin? Per­fect.”

The ro­tund Kim did not chime in.

They were served an eclectic, multi-course meal with Asian and West­ern dishes — Korean stuffed cu­cum­ber, beef short ribs, pork fried rice, braised cod and, a favorite of the pres­i­dent’s, Häa­gen-Dazs vanilla ice cream.

As the two lead­ers took a short walk around the prop­erty to work off the meal, Trump showed off his ar­mored stretch Cadil­lac to Kim. A Se­cret Ser­vice agent held open a door so Kim could peer in­side the “Beast,” as the pres­i­den­tial limou­sine is known, but the cu­ri­ous North Korean dictator did not climb in­side.

Trump’s com­ments through­out the day were short on de­tails, demon­strat­ing a lack of com­mand over the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of nuclear arms ne­go­ti­a­tions, but heavy on su­perla­tives. As he told it, the sum­mit was “very his­toric.” Kim was “very talented,” “very smart” and a “very good ne­go­tia­tor.” The agree­ment they reached was “very, very com­pre­hen­sive.” The North Korean peo­ple were “very gifted.” And their coun­try’s fu­ture is “very, very bright.”

As he of­ten does, Trump tried to win his guest’s af­fec­tions. He soft­ened con­cerns about Kim’s record of hu­man rights atroc­i­ties by say­ing “it’s a rough sit­u­a­tion over there” but adding, “It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way.”

Trump also spoke eu­phemisti­cally about Kim’s pop­u­lar­ity in North Korea, a coun­try where cit­i­zens who try to es­cape are of­ten sen­tenced to la­bor camps or ex­e­cuted. “His coun­try does love him. His peo­ple, you see the fer­vor. They have a great fer­vor,” Trump said of Kim in an in­ter­view with ABC News an­chor Ge­orge Stephanopou­los.

Trump de­scribed his half-day of meet­ings with Kim as a sin­gu­lar mo­ment in his­tory and said his ap­proach to North Korea — first with fiery rhetoric and brinkman­ship and now with a gen­tle touch — has saved the lives of tens of mil­lions of peo­ple be­cause it staved off a nuclear catas­tro­phe in Seoul, the South Korean cap­i­tal, which is home to about 25 mil­lion peo­ple 35 miles from the de­mil­i­ta­rized zone with the North.

“This is re­ally an honor for me to be do­ing this, be­cause I think, you know, po­ten­tially, you could have lost, you know, 30-, 40-, 50 mil­lion peo­ple,” Trump said at the news con­fer­ence.

Trump said he tried to help Kim imag­ine his coun­try as wealthy and mod­ern, with “great con­dos” and “the best ho­tels” on its water­front — if only North Korea opened it­self to the world.

“They have great beaches,” Trump told re­porters. “You see that when­ever they’re ex­plod­ing their can­nons into the ocean, right? I said: ‘Boy, look at that place. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’ And I ex­plained it. I said, ‘In­stead of do­ing that, you could have the best ho­tels in the world right there.’ Think of it from a real es­tate per­spec­tive.”

To that end, Trump com­mis­sioned a film por­tray­ing North Korea as some sort of paradise, with gleam­ing skyrises, time-lapsed sun­rises, high­speed trains, ma­jes­tic horses run­ning through wa­ter and chil­dren mer­rily skip­ping through Kim Il Sung Square in Py­ongyang. It in­cluded a mon­tage of im­ages of Kim Jong Un and Trump wav­ing their hands and flash­ing thumbs up, as if run­ning mates in a cam­paign.

The film was rem­i­nis­cent of Py­ongyang’s pro­pa­ganda videos, only it was made in the United States un­der Trump’s di­rec­tion. It in­cluded a credit to Des­tiny Pic­tures.

Trump said he had it made to show Kim what his coun­try’s fu­ture could look like if it aban­doned its nuclear weapons and nor­mal­ized re­la­tions with the West. Trump said he played the film on an iPad for Kim dur­ing one of their meet­ings — and, Trump said, “I think he loved it.” So the pres­i­dent di­rected aides to play it on giant screens in the au­di­to­rium at the start of his news con­fer­ence, first a ver­sion in Korean and then one in English.

Tues­day’s cap­stone was Trump’s news con­fer­ence, a free­wheel­ing af­fair that lasted 66 min­utes. The pres­i­dent was con­fi­dent and chummy with re­porters, even those he of­ten at­tacks. He called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, a favorite foil, and said with a smirk: “Go ahead. Be nice. Be re­spect­ful.”

Trump did not ut­ter the words “fake news.” A few re­porters from con­ser­va­tive out­lets, in­clud­ing Jon Decker of Fox News Ra­dio and Emer­ald Robinson of One Amer­ica News Net­work, wished the pres­i­dent “congratulations” be­fore ask­ing their ques­tions.

Trump clearly en­joyed ban­ter­ing with the press, though his an­swers lacked some of the sub­stan­tive de­tail re­porters were seek­ing. The pres­i­dent’s aides seemed to en­joy it less. About mid­way through, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had been jostling in their seats in the front row, could be seen ges­tur­ing at White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders as if to en­list her in cut­ting off the news con­fer­ence.

But the pres­i­dent kept go­ing and go­ing. As he started to walk out, headed to the air­port for the day-long flight home to Wash­ing­ton, re­porters shouted out ques­tions about his pre­vi­ously undis­closed first phone call with Kim. Some asked whether there was a record­ing or notes of the con­ver­sa­tion to give the govern­ment a record of what the two men said.

“We don’t have to ver­ify,” Trump said, “be­cause I have one of the great mem­o­ries of all time. So I don’t have to, okay?”

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