“We will have a terrific relationship,” President Trump said as he sat for the cameras with a man with whom he had verbally sparred for months and even threatened to destroy. “[I feel] really great, we’re gonna have a great discussion and a terrific relationship.” He added that it was an “honour”.
Mr Kim said in response: “It was not easy to get here….There were obstacles but we overcame them to be here.”
Following a one-one meeting with Mr Kim – which just translators invited – and then an extended bilateral meetings including aides, as well as a working lunch. Mr Trump hinted at a potential document signing, although it was unclear what that would mean.
Mr Trump added that the meetings went “better than anybody could imagine”. The leaders emerged from a working lunch and strolled together down a paved walkway before stopping and posing before the waiting news media.
Mr Trump said the meeting is “going great. We had a really fantastic meeting”.
He added that there has been “a lot of progress. Really very positive. I think better than anybody could imagine.”
The extraordinary summit – barely conceivable just a few months ago – underscored the dramatic turn-around in relations between the two nuclear armed nations, when the world seemed to be teetering on the edge of conflict. Instead, the two leaders were set to discuss North Korea dismantling a nuclear programme that the regime has long pursued as a safeguard of its power, and what the US and the West can offer to persuade the heavily-sanctioned nation to do so.
And the public spectacle of an American president grasping the hand of North Korea’s absolute leader offers the latest opportunity for Mr Kim, who leads one of the of world’s most repressive regimes, to burnish his public-facing image as he pursues a high-stakes diplomatic gambit.
Earlier this year, cameras captured Mr Kim embracing South Korean president Moon Jae-in during a meeting along the two countries’ heavily fortified border. On the eve of Mr Kim’s meeting with Mr Trump, the North Korean leader posed for a selfie with Singaporean officials.
But if it is a gamble for Mr Kim, it is also one for Mr Trump. At the outset of Mr Trump’s presidential term, the prospect of a diplomatic opening with North Korea seemed less likely than the outbreak of armed conflict.
Pyongyang tested a series of increasingly sophisticated ballistic missiles and a hydrogen bomb, boasting about its ability to annihilate the US and Asian allies while demonstrating its capacity to do so.
Barack Obama warned his successor that dealing with North Korea would likely be among his most pressing of challenges.
In response, Mr Trump taunted Mr Kim – nicknaming him “Little Rocket Man” – and promising to “destroy” North Korea if necessary, a threat that was echoed by a procession of senior officials. Most vocal among them was his national security adviser John Bolton.
But as the world powers bound a straitjacket of international sanctions around the North Korean economy, the regime pivoted to outreach by sending its athletes to the Winter Olympics. The renewed diplomatic channel to South Korea allowed Seoul to pass to the White House Mr Kim’s invitation to meet.
Despite the North Korean regime pronounced its commitment to “denuclearisation” and Mr Trump projecting optimism about striking a deal, the talks seemed headed for collapse after Pyongyang released a series of increasingly aggressive statements that included insults against vice president Mike Pence, leading Mr Trump to call off the summit. Days later – and following a conciliatory statement from Pyongyang – the talks were back on.