SINGAPORE – A day after arguing with western allies at the G-7 summit over trade, President Trump ventured to Asia on Sunday prepared to declare victory in talks with a long-time adversary, nuclear-armed North Korea.
“We have a chance to achieve a truly wonderful result for North Korea and the World,” Trump tweeted en route to the historic trading post of Singapore, predicting that counterpart Kim Jong Un “will work very hard to do something that has rarely been done before … Create peace and great prosperity for his land.”
Trump, who is offering to reduce economic sanctions on North Korea in exchange for denuclearization, also seemed to warm Kim that the summit is a “one-time opportunity” that should not be wasted.
Kim landed in the mid-afternoon, staying silent as he has since Trump announced he had rescheduled the once-canceled meeting set for Tuesday morning local time (prime time Monday in the United States).
“Trump will hype this relentlessly, no matter what comes of it,” tweeted Robert E. Kelly, a political science professor at Pusan National University in South Korea who is town to comment on the summit for the BBC.
Even if Kim offers only “a fine-sounding rhetorical commitment, and maybe a few missile surrendered or some site closures,” he said, Trump will “market this thing as something extraordinary for his voters back home.”
Few people expect Kim to commit to what some Trump administration officials call “CVID:” Complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of nuclear weapons programs — certainly not at this meeting, and perhaps not ever.
In tamping down expectations, Trump himself has described this initial meeting as the start of a process. Some analysts said a Kim commitment to specific negotiations on denuclearization could well be enough for Tuesday’s summit to be a success.
Olivia Enos, policy analyst with the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, said “a successful summit would move beyond mere statements about denuclearization.”
It “would instead lay out practical steps with requisite commitments from North Korea that demonstrate that it understands, accepts and is committed to achieving denuclearization as the U.S. defines it,” said Enos, who is also in Singapore to watch the proceedings.
Trump and Kim touched down on a sweltering early summer day in Singapore, the city-state founded in the early 19th Century as a British colony because of its position at the intersection of sea lanes between Europe and Asia.
The Singapore government offered itself as a neutral site for the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. It also annoyed Singapore residents by offering to pay Kim’s hotel bill.
Security is tight ahead of the summit between two unpredictable men who in the past have threatened to destroy the other’s country during the stand-off over North Korea’s nukes.
Officers combed the city on Sunday, from the old colonial section to the modern skyscrapers to the hotel on nearby Sentosa island where Trump and Kim will actually meet. The leaders are spending the night at hotels about a half-mile apart in the upscale shopping area in Tanglin.
A government described as authoritarian by its critics has clamped down on protests thought strict loitering laws and a difficult permitting process.
Still, some Singaporeans are getting into the swing of things. Trump and Kim lookalikes held a summit of their own at a local shopping mall, while one bistro is offering a libation known as the Trump-Kim “Bromance:” Beer, tequila, diet Coke and the Korean distilled rice liquor known as soju.
Trump and Kim landed in a city teeming with media and onlookers of all stripes, from foreign policy analysts like Kelly and Enos to former basketball star Dennis Rodman, who claims to be a friend of the two leaders.
The American president traveled to Singapore from Canada and the tensions of the G-7 summit that centered largely on disputes over trade. Longtime U.S. allies like Canada and Germany protested Trump-backed tariffs on their exports, and threatened to retaliate with their own tariffs on U.S. products.
For his part, Trump accused the summit host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of lying, and threatened to end trade with G-7 nations that he said use unfair practices. The president also refused to sign a G-7 joint statement pledging cooperation.
While fighting a trade war with allies, Trump now brings his America First negotiating style to the deadly topic of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Exuding confidence, Trump said he has done relatively little formal preparation. The former businessman said he has spend a lifetime preparing for negotiations of this type, and predicted he would know in an instant if Kim is serious about the topic of denuclearization.
“I think within the first minute I’ll know,” Trump said. “Just my touch, my feel.”
The president who once described Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and threatened to destroy his country if it did not give up nukes, has not said what might happen if the summit goes the wrong way.
“It’s unknown territory, in the truest sense,” Trump said during the G-7. “But I really feel confident. I feel that Kim Jong Un wants to do something great for his people, and he has that opportunity. And he won’t have that opportunity again. It’s never going to be there again.”