It was an electrifying sight that captured the imagination of millions of people living on the crisis-weary Korean Peninsula but sent many Americans spinning into paroxysms of anger and cynicism, depending on their politics and knowledge of the rocky history of US relations with North and South Korea.
On Tuesday, President Trump and Kim Jong-un met and shook hands on Singapore’s resort island of Sentosa, curbing decades of deep and bitter hostility between the two countries and possibly opening a new chapter for the United States in East Asia. Afterward, Trump even boasted that he had created a “special bond” with the North Korean dictator.
The unprecedented meeting was the climax of months of intensive negotiations that began in earnest in March, when Kim, through the mediation of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, unexpectedly invited Trump to meet and settle their vast differences. As their initial encounter began, Trump declared that times had changed—irrevocably.
“I think we will have a terrific relationship,” Trump predicted as he and Kim took a break after their initial handshake. With considerable understatement, Kim responded. “It was not easy to get here,” he said. “There were obstacles, but we overcame them to be here.” His words might have sounded trite, but they underscored the long and complicated road the North Korean dictator and the US president have come.
Less than a year ago, Kim was busy building a mighty nuclear and missile deterrent and threatening to use it if North Korea’s sovereignty was compromised, while Trump was coldly informing the world that he was ready to unleash “fire and fury” to “totally destroy North Korea” if its threats continued. But by June 12, all that was forgotten.
After 45 minutes of alone time with their interpreters, Trump and Kim gathered their closest advisers and aides for a two-hour discussion about denuclearization and other critical issues. Then, after a friendly luncheon at the swank Capella Hotel, the two men reconvened to sign a document in which the US and the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s formal name) mapped out a four-part plan to make the peace and establish a new relationship.
The “joint statement” included a pledge to build “a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” and reaffirmed the DPRK’s commitment, made in Kim’s April 27 “Panmunjom Declaration” with President Moon, to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” In a last-minute addition, the statement also committed each side to restart a project abandoned years ago to jointly recover the remains of US soldiers killed and missing in action during the Korean War of 1950 to 1953.