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US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their historic summit in Singapore on Tuesday morning (12 June), in the first ever meeting between the heads of two states that are still technically at war with each other.
At 9.04am, the two leaders shook hands and exchanged guarded smiles in what is widely considered as the world’s most politically momentous event in years, under the intense glare of the international media gathering at the Capella on Sentosa island, where the summit is held, the International Media Centre in the F1 Pit Building and elsewhere in Singapore.
“I feel really great. We’re going to have a great discussion and will be tremendously successful. It’s my honour and we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt,” Trump said.
“It was not easy to get here….There were obstacles but we overcame them to be here,” Kim replied through a translator.
The two leaders are expected to discuss longstanding thorny issues between the two Korean War enemies, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons and trade sanctions against the isolationist regime.
Trump arrived first at the Capella Hotel in Sentosa at 8.25am for his historic meeting with Kim. He left the Shangri-La Hotel, where he has been staying ahead of the summit, at 8am.
Kim arrived later at the Capella at 8.32am after departing from the St Regis hotel, the venue of his stay for the summit, at 8.15am.
After the private meeting between Trump and Kim, which is expected to last 45 minutes, the US and North Korea will hold an expanded meeting followed by a working lunch.
The members of the US delegation who are expected to attend the bilateral meeting include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.
The US has continuously insisted that North Korea must abandon its nuclear programme before the world would lift the crippling sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom. Pyongyang, however, wants a phased approach towards complete denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.
The summit was the fruition of weeks of intense talks between the top negotiators from both countries, bolstered by international goodwill for it to succeed. But the road to peace was not all smooth sailing.
Pyongyang was enraged in May after Bolton said Libya, a country that had given up its nuclear weapons and whose dictator Muammar Gaddafi was later deposed by a popular uprising, could serve as a model for North Korea’s denuclearisation, and threatened to pull out from the summit. Trump cancelled the summit unilaterally on 24 May, citing Pyongyang’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” before reinstating it eight days later.
Just last year, North Korea was viewed as a bellicose nation bent on destabilising the region. It fired a number of missiles in the region and tested a hydrogen bomb, triggering widespread condemnation from its neighbours and the United Nations.
Yet in the space of less than six months this year, the country surprised the world by taking several dramatic steps towards peace: accepting South Korea’s offer of talks, participating in the Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea, holding the Inter-Korean summit twice with long-time foe South Korea, destroying a nuclear test site, and proposing the Kim-Trump summit in a bid to end decades of animosity between the US and North Korea.
On Monday, the White House issued a statement to say that talks between the two countries “have moved more quickly than expected”. Earlier in the day, North Korean chief negotiator Choe Son Hui met with the US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel ahead of the summit.
Trump will hold a media briefing at 4pm on Tuesday. He is scheduled to leave Singapore for the US at 7pm.
Kim is scheduled to depart Singapore at 2 pm but the plan is tentative, according to a Reuters report, citing a source who is involved in the planning of his visit to the summit. In a further move to improve bilateral ties, Kim has invited Trump for a second summit next month in Pyongyang, according to media reports.
The summit has also generated great interest among tourists and Singaporeans, with many people staking out the routes of the US and North Korean motorcades since the arrival of Trump and Kim on Sunday.
Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore near the Capella, Kwon Min Gyeong, a 13-year-old South Korean who is on holiday in Singapore with her family, said, “I know about the summit through news in South Korea. We came down because we wanted to take picture of Kim Jong Un (and show my friends).”
Ng Jia Ni, 20, a second-year student at Millennia Institute, was disappointed after she failed for the third time in her attempt to catch a glimpse of Trump, having missed his motorcade travelling towards the Istana and near the Shangri-La on Monday, and in the vicinity of Capella on Tuesday morning.
Called it a “historic, once in a lifetime event”, the Singaporean said it is a “great privilege for Singapore to play our role in achieving stability in the region”.
Additional reporting by Dhany Osman, Nicholas Yong and Wong Casandra