SINGAPORE—President Donald Trump declared a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un had gone better than expected as he emerged after nearly four hours of talks with the North Korean leader aimed at bringing about Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament.
The two men walked side-by-side outside the hotel on Sentosa Island where they met as Mr. Trump said they were “going right now for a signing,” without providing more details.
“We had a really fantastic meeting, a lot of progress, really very positive. I think better than anybody could have expected—top of the line,” Mr. Trump said.
They started the day by greeting each other before a row of alternating U.S. and North Korean flags. After a lengthy handshake, the two leaders exchanged a few words. “Nice to meet you, Mr. President,” Mr. Kim told Mr. Trump.
The men posed side by side for news cameras before settling in for a 38-minute, one-on-one meeting. They then brought in top advisers for another two hours of talks, before sharing a lunch that included prawn cocktail, beef short rib and vanilla ice cream.
“We’re going to have a great discussion,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s my honor and we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.”
Mr. Kim said that “old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles in our way forward, but we overcame all of them and we are here today.”
Photos: Trump and Kim in Singapore for U.S.-North Korea Summit
President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un shook hands at the beginning of a summit in Singapore
The unprecedented meeting between the two leaders is enough for each side to claim an achievement. Mr. Trump became the only sitting U.S. president ever to meet with a North Korean leader and Mr. Kim cemented his place on the world stage.
The 13-second handshake, which was televised live around the world, marked the high point of an at-times surreal couple of days, extending the rapprochement of two men who only months ago were trading insults and threatening each other with nuclear attack.
On Monday night, the North Korean leader went on a sightseeing tour of Singapore, drawing crowds of bemused onlookers. On Tuesday, Dennis Rodman, the flamboyant retired basketball star who has befriended Mr. Kim, appeared in an emotional television interview from the city.
“Getting a good picture everybody?” Mr. Trump asked photographers ahead of the lunch. “So we look nice and handsome and thin? Perfect.”
Mr. Trump, who had quarreled with some of the U.S.’s closest allies earlier in the week, was upbeat ahead of his encounter with Mr. Kim. “We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!” he wrote in a Twitter post earlier in the day.
The purpose of the summit, once envisioned as a way to solidify North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, shifted in recent weeks as the White House sought to play down expectations, most recently portraying it as an initial step toward that eventual goal, while ending more than six decades of enmity.
One possible outcome of the summit is a communique outlining the parameters for talks that would follow. Some White House officials say the historic handshake, and the opportunity for the two leaders to meet, may be the singular result.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in advance of the meeting said: “We’ll see how far we get.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a passionate proponent of the peace talks, said the meeting could herald the beginning of a process lasting up to two years or longer. “I think every South Korean’s attention is on Singapore. I too could not sleep last night,” Mr. Moon said during a meeting with his senior aides. He had earlier been watching the summit coverage on television with his advisers.
More high-level negotiations over thorny issues like the pace of North Korea’s denuclearization and a verification process to certify that the North has disarmed are slated to begin as early as next month.
The summit, which has drawn thousands of media representatives from all over the world to Singapore, has captured the attention of the American public in a way that few foreign policy issues have in recent years, said Frank Luntz, a Republican political consultant and pollster.
Kim Jong Un: The Rise of a Dictator
More than half of Americans, 53%, said they approved of Mr. Trump’s handling of North Korea in a CNN poll on May 10, up from 35% in November. Asked if they approved of the president’s decision to meet Mr. Kim, 77% said they did, up from 62% in March.
The summit is also drawing heightened attention in North Korea. The country’s media on Monday reported for the first time on the coming summit.
The report described the talks as being focused on a “permanent and durable peacekeeping mechanism” with the goal of “realizing the denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.
A White House official called the report a “sign for optimism.”
As the day of the summit neared, North Korea’s main party newspaper published an editorial on Monday asserting the importance of every nation’s sovereignty. Without naming the U.S. or any countries, the article said that “genuine, equal relations” could be formed “only when independence of each country is maintained.”
“There can be no superior and inferior countries, and nations dominating others and those obliged to be dominated in the world,” it read.
Mr. Trump’s team was aware of the U.S. domestic political implications of the talks. White House aides have discussed seeking a commitment from North Korea to hand over its nuclear weapons within the next two years, administration officials said, an ambitious timetable that would coincide with a presidential re-election bid on Mr. Trump’s part.
- Capital Journal: Summit Puts Kim’s Words to the Test
- Kim Jong Un, Sightseeing Dictator, Takes Selfies in Singapore
- The Return of the Political-Risk Trade
- Kim Jong Un Seizes His Moment
- A Double-Edged Sword for North Korea
- Trump, Kim Jong Un Brace for High-Stakes Summit in Singapore
- The Art of the Foreign-Policy Deal: An Insider’s Guide to Trump’s Tactics
- From ‘Punk Kid’ to 21st Century Tyrant: Kim Jong Un Seizes His Moment
- Historic Handshakes: Past Presidential Summits
Mr. Trump himself was intent on holding the meeting, initially resisting recommendations from top advisers, including national security adviser John Bolton, to cancel it on the night of May 23, when a senior North Korean official belittled Vice President Mike Pence and boasted about an arsenal that could devastate the U.S.
Mr. Trump finally made up his mind the next morning, opting to send what he called a “beautiful letter” on White House letterhead that called off the summit but didn’t shut the door entirely.
North Korea quickly issued a conciliatory response and, within two days, a White House team was sent to Singapore to arrange the summit.
To encourage North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, the U.S. prepared to offer North Korea “different, unique” security assurances that go beyond anything Washington offered in the past, Mr. Pompeo said Monday, in a possible allusion to a peace treaty and other assurances.
But Mr. Pompeo, who has led several rounds of talks with North Korea in recent months, said Washington wouldn’t agree to ease economic sanctions against Pyongyang unless “we get the outcome we are demanding”—complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.
The secretary of state declined to say whether the U.S. would agree to limit military operations on or near the Korean Peninsula by U.S. aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Nor would he say if the U.S. would be willing to negotiate over the number of U.S. forces stationed in South Korea.
In an earlier round of negotiations in September 2005, the U.S. issued a joint statement with North Korea and four other nations in which it affirmed that it had no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and “no intention to attack or invade” North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons. But those negotiations faltered when the North balked at wide-ranging inspections.
This week’s summit came together rapidly by diplomatic standards, without painstaking advance work by lower-level officials. Some of the pre-summit talks were handled for the U.S. by Sung Kim, a State Department veteran of past nuclear talks, and for North Korea by Vice Minister Choe Son Hui.
Tuesday’s summit came after the two leaders and their governments spent months trading insults. Mr. Trump mocked Mr. Kim, calling him last year “Rocket Man” in an address before the United Nations General Assembly, while North Korea threatened to launch missiles at the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam and to explode a nuclear device over the Pacific Ocean.
—Andrew Jeong and Niharika Mandhana contributed to this article.
Appeared in the June 12, 2018, print edition as ‘Trump, Kim Embark on New Path.’