Houston Chronicle

U.S. and North Korea begin a new chapter

President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have their first face-to-face meeting, taking a historic step in an unlikely courtship

- By Mark Landler

SINGAPORE — President Donald Trump shook hands with Kim Jong Un of North Korea on Tuesday and welcomed the start of a “terrific relationsh­ip,” a momentous step in an improbable courtship that has opened a new chapter for the world’s largest nuclear power and the most reclusive one.

Brash, impulsive leaders who only a few months ago taunted each other across a nuclear abyss, Trump and Kim had set aside their threats in a gamble that for now, at least, personal diplomacy can counteract decades of enmity and distrust.

In a carefully choreograp­hed encounter, Trump and Kim strode toward each other, arms extended, in the red-carpeted reception area of a Singapore hotel built on the site of a British colonial outpost — the first time a sitting U.S. president and North Korean leader have ever met.

Posing for photograph­s, Trump put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. Then the

two, alone except for their interprete­rs, walked off to meet privately in an attempt to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program.

“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 said: “It was not easy to get here. There were obstacles, but we overcame them to be here.”

Posing later for photograph­s as top aides from both sides joined their meeting, Trump declared, “Working together, we will get it taken care of.”

Kim responded, “There will be challenges ahead, but we will work with Trump.”

Whether they will succeed is, of course, highly questionab­le. Their negotiator­s failed to make much headway in working-level meetings beforehand, leaving Trump and Kim with little common ground before what could be months or even years of talks.

But this is a negotiatio­n that follows no known playbook: Two headstrong men — one 34 years old, the other 71; products of wealth and privilege, but with lives so dissimilar that the two leaders could be from different planets — coming together to search for a deal that eluded their predecesso­rs.

“I just think it’s going to work out very nicely,” Trump had said earlier Monday, with the confident tone he has used from the moment in March when he accepted Kim’s invitation to meet.

Even as he spoke, American and North Korean diplomats were struggling in a last-minute negotiatio­n to bridge gaps on some of the most basic issues dividing the two sides, including the terms and timing under which the North would surrender its nuclear arsenal.

The goal of the negotiator­s was to lock down the language of a joint communiqué to be issued by Trump and Kim at the end of their meeting. If robust and detailed, such a statement could serve as a road map for future negotiatio­ns between the sides — and proof that the meeting was more than a mere photo opportunit­y.

Lengthy process begins

At least 2,500 journalist­s from around the world were on hand to chronicle what some officials said would amount to an extravagan­t meet-and-greet exercise. Even if successful, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo predicted, it would only inaugurate a lengthy, complicate­d and risky process.

Still, the meeting between Trump and Kim represents a turnaround that would have been inconceiva­ble just a few months ago, when both men were hurling insults at each other and threatenin­g a nuclear conflict that rattled friend and foe alike.

In the last year alone, Kim has conducted his nation’s most powerful nuclear test and developed missiles capable of striking U.S. cities. Trump responded by threatenin­g to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

A sudden change in tone started in January, when Kim, in a gesture of reconcilia­tion, offered to send athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea. It was the beginning of a public relations makeover for the young dictator, who only a few months later invited Trump to meet with him.

Both sides are now considerin­g a formal end to the Korean War, putting to rest a Cold Warera conflict that by some estimates killed 5 million people.

The communiqué at the conclusion of their meeting is likely to have three sections — on denucleari­zation, security guarantees for the North and steps to be taken by both sides — according to a person briefed on the talks. But it was not clear that the Americans succeeded in extracting a more detailed commitment to disarmamen­t than North Korea had offered in talks with previous administra­tions.

On Monday, the White House reverted to tried-and-true diplomatic language, saying it sought complete, verifiable and irrebetter, versible denucleari­zation “on the Korean Peninsula” — a phrase first used in 1992, in a joint declaratio­n between North and South Korea. It had earlier insisted on complete, verifiable and irreversib­le denucleari­zation.

North Korea has in the past interprete­d the phrase “on the Korean Peninsula” as requiring the United States to scale back U.S. troop deployment­s in South Korea or even to shrink its socalled nuclear umbrella over two East Asian allies, South Korea and Japan.

Pompeo insisted Monday, before Trump’s meeting, that the administra­tion’s policy had not changed. But he confirmed that the United States would offer security assurances that were different from previous U.S. offers under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He declined to outline them.

“We’re prepared to take actions that will provide them sufficient certainty that they can be comfortabl­e that denucleari­zation isn’t something that ends badly for them — indeed, just the opposite, that it leads to a brighter future for the North Korean people,” he said.

“The concept for these discussion­s is radically different than ever before,” Pompeo said.

On Tuesday evening, after speaking to the news media, Trump was to depart for Washington, earlier than originally expected, with brief stopovers in Guam and Hawaii.

The White House attributed the schedule change to how quickly it anticipate­d the diplomacy to wrap up. But it also may have been a negotiatin­g tactic to pressure Kim — or an implicit admission that with so many gaps, the two men may have little to talk about at this meeting.

Seasoned negotiator on team

For Trump, Monday was a brief intermissi­on between the tumult of an acrimoniou­s G-7 meeting in Canada over the weekend and the looming spectacle of his encounter with Kim.

Trump stayed largely out of sight in the Shangri-La Hotel, where he has been closeted with aides since landing in Singapore on Sunday. Less than a mile away, as if in a rival armed camp, Kim billeted at his own equally fortified hotel, the St. Regis.

But on Monday, Kim went out on the town. Engaging in some role reversal with Trump, he visited the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. He took selfies with Singaporea­n officials.

To negotiate the terms of the joint statement, the administra­tion recruited Sung Y. Kim, a seasoned North Korea negotiator now serving as U.S. ambassador to the Philippine­s, to lead that effort. Sung Kim and a small group of diplomats held a series of talks last week with the North Koreans in the town of Panmunjom, the so-called truce village in the Demilitari­zed Zone between North and South Korea.

People briefed on the meetings said American negotiator­s had found it difficult to make significan­t headway with the North Koreans, in part because the White House did not back them up in taking a hard line.

 ?? Evan Vucci / Associated Press ?? President Donald Trump greets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a carefully choreograp­hed meeting in Singapore on Tuesday.
Evan Vucci / Associated Press President Donald Trump greets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a carefully choreograp­hed meeting in Singapore on Tuesday.
 ?? Doug Mills / New York Times ?? “I feel really great,” President Donald Trump said at the beginning of his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim said, “There were obstacles, but we overcame them to be here.”
Doug Mills / New York Times “I feel really great,” President Donald Trump said at the beginning of his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim said, “There were obstacles, but we overcame them to be here.”

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