Trump arrives in Singapore to see if North Korea gamble pays off
President Donald Trump is about to see whether his bet on North Korea will pay off: that Kim Jong Un’s desire to end his country’s economic strangulation and pariah status will prevail over the dictator’s fear of relinquishing his nuclear threat.
Trump and Kim have yet to agree even on how to define denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — the stated goal of the meeting. The president wants the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of his nuclear weapons program. North Korea is seeking a security guarantee — possibly including a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War — and the removal of the US’s nuclear umbrella protecting allies South Korea and Japan.
The president said Saturday that he expects to know “within the first minute” if Kim is serious about giving up his weapons. The plan is for Trump and Kim to be alone for that first minute, aside from translators; they’ll later be joined by top aides including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton on the US side.
Trump arrived in Singapore late Sunday local time counting on the pain of current sanctions and the threat of more — or US military action — combined with the possibility of financial support and international acceptance to push Kim toward a deal. The US will want to see Kim outline concrete steps toward ending the nuclear program when the two leaders meet in the Asian city-state on Tuesday.
“I feel that Kim Jong Un wants to do something great for his people,” Trump said at a news conference in Charlevoix, Canada, where he attended a summit of leaders from the Group of Seven nations. “It’s a one-time shot and I think it’s going to work out very well.”
Kim has rejected calls to unilaterally give up his weapons in return for economic aid, and instead has proposed a step-by-step denuclearization process. His public statements and state-run media indicate he wants a deal to ease sanctions, but that he won’t give up his nuclear weapons until he feels safe enough to retain power without them.
That could present a formidable obstacle in any negotiations. US officials have insisted Kim must put his country on an irreversible path to disarm before any sanctions are lifted.
Kim arrived in Singapore on Sunday and met with the country’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong — only the third world leader he’s met face-to-face since taking power in 2011. Singapore is also the furthest Kim has traveled from North Korea since assuming leadership of his country.
The summit, the first ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, is a moment that Trump has had in mind for at least a year. After the 2016 election, then-President Barack Obama told Trump that North Korea was the biggest national security threat he faced, according to a US official.
Since Trump’s inauguration, his roller-coaster relationship with Kim has swung from personal insults — calling each other “dotard” and “little rocket man” — and threatening nuclear war, to a diplomatic courtship.
In a May 2017 interview with Bloomberg News, Trump said he’d be “honored” to meet with Kim if it made sense.
“Most political people would never say that,” Trump said at the time — just months after Kim’s half-brother was assassinated in a nerve-agent attack immediately blamed on the dictator. “But I’m telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him.”
Trump has added to the drama of the historic summit by suggesting the two leaders may reach a peace deal formally ending the Korean War 65 years after the armistice that ceased military hostilities.