Trump, Kim in Singapore ready to make history

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Kim shakes hands with Balakrishnan on arriving in Singapore yesterday. – Reuters

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump arrived in Singapore last night for a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that could lay the groundwork for ending a nuclear stand-off between the old foes and the transformation of the isolated state.

Trump flew into Singapore’s Paya Lebar Air Base aboard Air Force One looking to strike a deal that will lead to the denuclearisation of one of America’s bitterest foes, following a divisive meeting in Canada with some of Washington’s closest allies that further strained global trade ties.

After stepping down from Air Force One on a steamy tropical night, Trump was greeted by Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Asked by a reporter how he felt about the summit, Trump said: “Very good”. He then got into his limousine for the drive to his hotel in central Singapore.

Kim landed in Singapore hours earlier in the morning.

When Trump and Kim meet tomorrow at Sentosa, a resort island off Singapore’s port with a Universal Studios theme park and man-made beaches, they will be making history.

Enemies since the 1950-53 Korean War, leaders of North Korea and the US have never met previously – or even spoken on the telephone.

Kim arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport after his longest trip overseas as head of state, wearing his trademark dark “Mao suit” and distinctive high cut hairstyle.

Kim, arriving on a plane loaned by China, was also greeted by Balakrishnan.

Travelling with Kim were top officials including Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Kim Yong Chol, a close aide of Kim instrumental in the diplomacy that culminated in tomorrow’s summit.

Kim’s younger sister, was also spotted in his delegation. She emerged as an influential figure in Pyongyang’s opaque leadership in February, when she led a delegation to the winter Olympics in South Korea.

Officials who arrived with Trump include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Kim met Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shortly after his arrival, driving from the St. Regis Hotel where is staying, through the famous Orchard Road shopping district, which was closed off for his tightly guarded motorcade.

At the hotel lobby, grim-faced North Korean security guards warned other hotel guests not to take pictures as Kim walked to his Mercedes Benz limousine.

Trump, who is staying in the Shangri-La Hotel, according to the White House, is due to meet Lee today.

At stake at the summit are North Korea’s nuclear weapons and peace on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea spent decades developing nuclear weapons, culminating in the test of a thermonuclear device in 2017. It also successfully tested missiles that can reach the US mainland.

The tests came amid a campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea, led by the United States, that tightened economic sanctions and the possibility of military action.

The two leaders exchanged insults as fears of war grew.

But then in a New Year’s address, Kim sounded a conciliatory note, saying his country had completed development of its nuclear programme and would focus on economic development.

He also suggested a meeting with South Korea.

After a flurry of contacts between the two Koreas, South Korean officials suggested to Trump in March that Kim would be willing to meet face-to-face.

The summit comes after weeks of sometimes-contentious discussions and was briefly cancelled amid North Korean outrage over messaging from some US advisers.

Many remain sceptical Kim will ever abandon his nuclear programme. They believe his latest engagement is aimed at getting the US ease rippling sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country.

For Trump, a successful summit will see him achieve badly needed recognition on the international stage ahead of congressional elections in November.

Believed to be 34, Kim is one of the youngest heads of state in the world and looks an unlikely candidate to be making history of the kind that has eluded his father and grandfather, both past leaders.

But since taking power in 2011 after his father’s death, the youthful Kim has displayed a mixture of ruthlessness, pragmatism and statecraft to get this prize: to sit across the table with the leader of the United States and be treated as an equal.

The two leaders meet at 9am tomorrow at the Capella on Sentosa island, a refurbished British Army artillery mess and one-time grave yard on which rests one of Singapore’s most expensive hotels.

Kim is scheduled to leave Singapore tomorrow at 2pm.

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