Wednesday 22 August 2018

Kim eager to get thumbs up from old foe

Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump in Singapore yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump in Singapore yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Nicola Smith

In a meeting that would have defied credulity just a few months ago, at 9.02am yesterday morning in a Singapore hotel, as the world watched with baited breath, Donald Trump strode towards the man he once called "a sick puppy', arm outstretched in greeting.

Smiling nervously, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reciprocated the gesture, holding out his hand to the man that he in turn had derided as a "mentally deranged US dotard".

Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong. Photo: Reuters
Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong. Photo: Reuters

Amidst a cacophony of camera shutters, and in a display of improbable fraternity, the two men clasped each other in a 13-second handshake, seemingly drawing a line under a year of threats and insults many feared had brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The once-sworn enemies, who had threatened to annihilate each other and their countries only a few months ago, finally met face to face on the tiny island of Sentosa.

The momentous day had begun shortly after 8am, when black limousines, flanked by security convoys, had ferried Mr Kim and Mr Trump to the colonial-style Capella hotel, where North Korean and US flags were lined side by side in a display designed to suggest equal status between the two leaders and their countries.

Towering

Striding towards each other from opposite ends of a colonnaded patio, Mr Trump was the first to extend his hand towards Mr Kim while the two men were still at least three metres apart, the 6'3" US leader towering over his 5'7" counterpart.

With a paternalistic pat on the arm of the 34-year-old North Korean, Mr Trump (71) then directed the man he once derided as "rocket man" towards the waiting cameras and into a meeting room inside the hotel.

While Mr Trump, wearing dark business attire, assumed an expression striving for statesmanlike resolve, Mr Kim, dressed in his trademark black Mao suit, wore an expression commingling nervousness and awestruck disbelief.

In unguarded comments picked up by a CNN microphone, he told Mr Trump through a translator that onlookers would not believe the scenes before them. "Many people in the world will think of this as a form of fantasy ... from a science fiction movie," he said.

The summit imbued him with the legitimacy he craves.

Mr Kim had also scored a significant propaganda coup the night before the meeting, taking centre stage on a surprise walkabout to see the sights of downtown Singapore, where he posed for selfies, as astonished crowds looked on.

It was a masterful stroke by the North Korean propaganda machine which , reportedly under direction from his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, appears to be winning the battle to transform his image from hermit dictator to a youthful statesman capable of pushing the world's most powerful leader to the negotiating table.

As the summit dawned he showed a more deferential side, observing the Korean custom of arriving seven minutes before his elder counterpart for their meeting as a sign of respect.

At their first sit-down for the cameras, Mr Kim was jovial but President Trump looked more relaxed, offering him the flash of an encouraging thumbs-up as they shook hands for the third time. "Nice to meet you Mr President," said Mr Kim, beaming broadly but leaning in towards Mr Trump.

"I feel really great," Mr Trump replied. "We're going to have a great discussion and will be tremendously successful. It's my honour and we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt."

The two appeared to be quickly building an initial atmosphere of friendship ahead of a 45-minute, one-on-one meeting with only their interpreters in the room. In a joint statement afterwards, the two men revealed they had pledged to work toward the "denuclearisation" of the Korean Peninsula but offered few specifics about how.

The US promised security guarantees as, at a news conference later, Mr Trump announced an unexpected concession to the North, saying he would halt joint military exercises with South Korea.

The move was sure to rattle South Korea and Japan, which rely on a US security umbrella.

Mr Trump said he would end the regular exercises the because they were expensive and "very provocative"

© Daily Telegraph, London

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