On the eve of their historic summit, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are preparing for a meeting in Singapore that could define the fate of millions, along with their own political futures, with Trump forecasting a "nice" outcome.
Both sides were finalizing preparations for the meeting, which was to kick off at 9 a.m. Tuesday, local time, with a handshake between Trump and Kim, an image sure to be devoured around the world. Trump and Kim planned to meet one on one, joined only by translators, for up to two hours before admitting their respective advisers, a U.S. official said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations and insisted on anonymity.
The White House said in a statement that the talks with North Korea are moving "more quickly than expected," without mentioning specifics. The statement said Trump now plans to depart Singapore on Tuesday evening (around 8 p.m.) after giving a post-summit news conference, and not Wednesday morning as originally scheduled.
The summit will be the first between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president. In Singapore the sense of anticipation was palpable, with people lining the island city-state's spotless streets Monday waving cellphones as Trump headed to meet Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
As Trump and Lee sat down for a working lunch at the Istana house, the PM's official residence, Trump sounded optimistic, telling Lee, "We've got a very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely." Trump had earlier tweeted about the "excitement in the air!"
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there is "enormous potential" for the summit, but lowered expectations that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will happen after one meeting. He told reporters at a news conference on Monday, "We are hopeful the summit will have set the conditions for future productive talks."
Pompeo also said Tuesday's meeting presents a test of Kim's willingness to agree to deal his nuclear weapons away for "protections" from the United States.
Pompeo said the United States is prepared to take actions to provide North Korea with "sufficient certainty" that denuclearization "is not something that ends badly for them." He wouldn't say whether Trump would consider withdrawing U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, but insisted U.S. sanctions on the North would remain in place until the North denuclearizes.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there is 'enormous potential' for the summit, but lowered expectations about immediate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)
U.S. and North Korean officials huddled at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Monday ahead of the sit-down aimed at resolving a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal. A second round of meetings was planned for the afternoon as officials worked to lay the groundwork for progress to be made Tuesday, according to the official familiar with the preparations. Delegates were outlining specific goals for what Trump and Kim should try to accomplish, and multiple scenarios for how key issues could be resolved.
In a sign of lingering tensions, the North Koreans have been closely scrutinizing all American staffers who are slated to be in any U.S.-North Korea meetings, including translators, photographers and logistical staff, asking how they can be sure the Americans are not actually spies.
Trump and Kim arrived in Singapore on Sunday, both staying at luxurious and heavily guarded hotels about a kilometre and a half apart, with Trump at the Shangri-La Hotel and Kim at the St. Regis Hotel.
"The entire world is watching the historic summit between [North Korea] and the United States of America," Kim told Lee through an interpreter when they met Sunday.
Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman offered to 'support' the summit but plays no official role in the talks, according to the White House. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)
Trump has said he hopes to make a legacy-defining deal for the North to give up its nuclear weapons, though he has recently sought to minimize expectations, saying additional meetings may be necessary.
Asked Saturday about his goals, he said, "Well, I think the minimum would be relationship. You would start at least a dialogue, because, you know, as a deal person, I have done very well with deals."
Pompeo travelled twice to Pyongyang in recent months to lay the groundwork for Trump's meeting, becoming the most senior member of Trump's team to spend time with Kim face to face.
Pompeo, who shifted to his current role in the spring after serving as Trump's CIA director, spent Monday morning preparing with his top advisers, aides said. He was joined in Singapore by Ambassador Sung Kim, the U.S. envoy to the Philippines, and Ambassador Michael McKinley, a career diplomat Pompeo recently tapped to be his senior adviser.
A man in Seoul, South Korea, watches news footage of a North Korean missile launch in May 2016. The North has faced diplomatic and economic sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has also arrived in Singapore and emerged from the baggage claim area at Changi airport around midnight Monday.
Rodman, who is one of the few westerners to have met the North Korean leader, said last week he would "give whatever support is needed" to his "friends" Trump and Kim.
White House officials have said Rodman will play no official role in the diplomatic negotiations. Trump said last week that Rodman had not been invited to the summit.
Upon his arrival in Singapore, Rodman told reporters he wasn't sure if he would meet Kim.
The North has faced diplomatic and economic sanctions as it has advanced development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Experts believe the North is close to being able to target the entire U.S. mainland with its nuclear-armed missiles, and while there's deep skepticism that Kim will quickly give up those hard-won nukes, there's also some hope that diplomacy can replace the animosity between the U.S. and the North.
While advisers insist Trump has been reviewing briefing materials, he insists his gut instincts will matter most when he gets in the room with Kim. He told reporters he thinks he will know almost immediately whether a deal can be made, saying: "I will know, just my touch, my feel. That's what I do."
Pompeo insisted Trump was fully prepared, and he rejected a New York Times report which questioned whether the administration had sufficient technical and scientific support staff to deal with the issues that might be raised in negotiations.
Armed police officers patrol outside the St. Regis Hotel ahead of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images)
Pyongyang has said it is willing to deal away its entire nuclear arsenal if the United States provides it with reliable security assurances and other benefits. But there are major doubts, given how hard it has been for Kim to build his program and that the weapons are seen as the major guarantee to his holding onto unchecked power.
Any nuclear deal would hinge on the North's willingness to allow unfettered outside inspections of the country's warheads and nuclear fuel, much of which is likely kept in a vast complex of underground facilities. Past nuclear deals have crumbled over North Korea's reluctance to open its doors to outsiders.
Another possibility from the summit is a deal to end the Korean War, which North Korea has long demanded, presumably, in part, to get U.S. troops off the Korean Peninsula and eventually pave the way for a North Korean-led unified Korea.
Trump has also raised the possibility of further summits and an agreement ending the Korean War by replacing the armistice signed in 1953 with a peace treaty. China and South Korea would have to sign off on any legal treaty.
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