President Donald Trump put his extraordinary gamble with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to the test on Tuesday, sitting for unprecedented and surreal talks with the rogue kingdom’s despotic leader in what he hopes will amount to a historic breakthrough.
The two men — both intent on making history — greeted each other with extended hands in front of a row of US and North Korean flags, a previously unthinkable sight that reflects a new chapter in the two countries’ acrimonious relationship.
Later, Trump said his historic summit with Kim was going “very, very good” and predicted an eventual agreement on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, a gut-level assessment Trump had claimed earlier in the week he would make within the first minutes of the meeting.
“Excellent relationship,” he said as he emerged from one-on-one talks after 38 minutes.
Trump’s threats to politely walk out of the meeting if his expectations were unmet did not materialize. Instead he predicted he could “solve a big problem, a big dilemma” alongside his new partner.
“Working together, we’ll get it taken care of,” Trump said.
The remarks came amid an improbable series of events that few could have anticipated even three months ago. The unlikely images of US and North Korean counterparts engaging in friendly dialogue lent the day an air of unreality.
Other developments fueled that impression. Minutes before the historic handshake, Trump tweeted that his top economic adviser Larry Kudlow had suffered a heart attack. Immediately after the encounter, Dennis Rodman — one of the only Americans to have met Kim — was being interviewed on CNN.
Even Kim seemed to acknowledge the surreality of the day.
“Many people in the world will think of this as a (inaudible) form of fantasy … from a science fiction movie,” his translator was overheard saying as the two leaders walked down a white-columned colonnade.
Earlier, Trump patted Kim on the back and placed his hand on the North Korean’s shoulder as they walked into their meeting.
“I feel really great. We’ll have a great discussion,” Trump said at the beginning of the talks.
“This will be tremendously successful,” he continued. “We will have a terrific relationship.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Kim alluded to the longstanding enmity between his country and the United States.
“It has not been easy to come to this point,” Kim said, according to a CNN translation of his remarks. “For us the past has been holding us back, and old practices and prejudices have been covering our eyes and ears, but we have been able to overcome everything to arrive here today.”
Trump nodded in agreement.
The meeting comes only months after the two men traded nuclear taunts, ratcheting up tensions and leading to fears of war. Trump hopes the talks with the rogue kingdom’s despotic leader will amount to a historic breakthrough.
Whether nuclear disarmament is indeed the outcome of Tuesday’s summit won’t be known for years, if not decades. But the dramatic act of extending his hand to one of America’s longtime adversaries will forever illustrate Trump’s gut-driven, norm-shattering tenure.
After the men shook hands, they repaired inside for one-on-one talks. In that first meeting they were joined only by translators, a break from standard practice of having at least one aide present for high-stakes huddles.