SINGAPORE — President Trump concluded a historic meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, on Tuesday, saying that denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula would begin “very quickly.”
In a televised ceremony held in Singapore, the two leaders signed a joint statement that Trump called “comprehensive.” In the statement, Trump “committed to provide security guarantees” to North Korea, and Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
But the statement was short on details, and it was not clear if the two leaders had signed another document laying out potential next steps or a timetable. The joint statement was not immediately released to reporters, but it was legible in a photo of Trump holding it up at the ceremony.
The statement said the two nations would hold “follow-on negotiations” led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a high-level North Korean official “at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes” of the summit meeting.
It also said the two nations would “join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime” on the divided peninsula, meaning talks to reduce military tensions that could eventually lead to a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War.
“We had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind,” Kim said at the signing ceremony, adding that “the world will see a major change.”
“We’re very proud of what took place today,” Trump said. “I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past.” He said copies of the document would be distributed and that he would speak to reporters later about it.
The signing ceremony came after several hours of discussions between the two leaders.
The day began with Trump shaking hands with Kim and hailing the start of a “terrific relationship.”
Brash, impulsive leaders who only a few months ago taunted each other across a nuclear abyss, Trump and Kim had set aside their threats in a gamble that for now, at least, personal diplomacy could counteract decades of enmity and distrust.
In a carefully choreographed encounter, Trump and Kim strode toward each other, arms extended, in the red-carpeted reception area of a Singapore hotel built on the site of a British colonial outpost. It was the first time a sitting US president and a North Korean leader had ever met.
Posing before a wall of US and North Korean flags, Trump put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. Then the two, alone except for their interpreters, walked off to meet privately in an attempt to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program.
“I feel really great,” Trump said. “It’s going to be a great discussion and I think tremendous success. I think it’s going to be really successful and I think we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.”
A more sober-sounding Kim said: “It was not easy to get here. The past worked as fetters on our limbs, and the old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward. But we overcame all of them, and we are here today.”
Later, as the two leaders reconvened with top aides, Trump declared of the nuclear impasse, “Working together, we will get it taken care of.”
Kim responded, “There will be challenges ahead, but we will work with Trump.”
Their negotiators had failed to make much headway in working-level meetings before the meeting, leaving Trump and Kim with little common ground ahead of what could be months or even years of talks.
But this was a negotiation that followed no known playbook: Two headstrong men — one 34 years old, the other 71; products of wealth and privilege, but with lives so dissimilar that they were practically from different planets — coming together to search for a deal that eluded their predecessors.
“I just think it’s going to work out very nicely,” Trump said Monday, with the confident tone he has used from the moment in March when he accepted Kim’s invitation to meet.
Even as he spoke, American and North Korean diplomats were struggling to bridge gaps on some of the most basic issues dividing the two sides, including the terms and timing under which the North would surrender its nuclear arsenal.
At least 2,500 journalists from around the world were on hand to chronicle what some officials said would amount to an extravagant meet-and-greet exercise. Even if successful, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo predicted it would only inaugurate a lengthy, complicated and risky process.
Still, the meeting represented a turnaround that would have been inconceivable just a few months ago, when the verbal sparring included threats of a nuclear conflict that rattled friend and foe alike.
In the last year alone, Kim has conducted his nation’s most powerful nuclear test and developed missiles capable of striking US cities. Trump responded in August by threatening to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Then, in January, there was a sudden change in tone. Kim, in a gesture of reconciliation, offered to send athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea — the first act in a public relations makeover for the young dictator, who only a few months later invited Trump to meet with him.
Singapore’s government turned this futuristic city-state into a giant stage for Trump and Kim. In addition to their one-on-one meeting, they met with their aides at their sides and again over lunch — all at a well-guarded luxury hotel on the island of Sentosa, where tourists and locals visit the Universal Studios theme park or the crescent-shaped beach.
For Trump, Monday was a brief intermission between the tumult of an acrimonious G-7 meeting in Canada over the weekend and the looming spectacle of his encounter with Kim.
Trump stayed largely out of sight in the Shangri-La Hotel, where he had been closeted with aides since landing in Singapore on Sunday evening. Less than a mile away, as if in a rival armed camp, Kim billeted at his own equally fortified hotel, the St. Regis.
But Monday evening, Kim went out on the town. Engaging in some role reversal with Trump, he visited the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, a striking resort owned by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson. He took selfies with Singaporean officials.
There were other reminders of the bizarre turns this story has taken: On Tuesday, former pro basketball player Dennis Rodman, who befriended Kim during trips to Pyongyang, turned up in Singapore to give a tearful television interview about his role in trying to thaw relations between the two countries.
Trump, meanwhile, refused to let go of his rancorous clash with European allies over trade. On Monday morning, from his hotel, he unleashed a fusillade of angry posts on Twitter about what he said were the predatory trade practices of Canada and several European countries.
“Sorry, we cannot let our friends, or enemies, take advantage of us on Trade anymore,” the president said in a tweet. “We must put the American worker first!”
Trump’s harsh words about the nation’s closest allies stood in stark contrast to his expression of sunny feelings toward Kim, a brutal dictator known for human rights abuses who ordered the execution of his own uncle.
“Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air!” tweeted Trump, before setting foot outside his hotel.
To negotiate the terms of the joint statement, the administration recruited Sung Y. Kim, a seasoned North Korea negotiator now serving as US ambassador to the Philippines, to lead that effort. Sung Kim and a small group of diplomats held a series of talks last week with the North Koreans in Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
People briefed on the meetings said American negotiators had found it difficult to make significant headway with the North Koreans, in part because the White House did not back them up in taking a hard line.
In his public statements before the talks, Trump showed gradually greater flexibility toward North Korea, saying he viewed its disarmament as a “process,” rather than something to be done all at once, and disavowing the phrase “maximum pressure,” after making it the centerpiece of his policy.
But Trump also included his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, in the meeting with Kim. Bolton is a lightning rod in Pyongyang because of his proposal that North Korea disarm voluntarily as Libya did in 2003 — a concession that ended badly, when Libya’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was killed by his own people in an uprising less than a decade later in the wake of a NATO air campaign.
South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, who worked intensely to help broker the meeting, underlined its historic nature.
Moon urged a “bold give-and-take” to make it successful. But he said that regardless of whatever agreement was produced, it would be just the beginning of what could be a long, bumpy process of ridding North Korea of a nuclear arsenal it has spent decades building.
“Even after the two heads of state open the gate,” Moon said, “it will take a long process to achieve a complete solution. We don’t know how long it will take: one year, two years or more.”