There was a lot of touch and feel — but will there be denuclearization?
President Trump kept patting Kim Jong Un’s back as he became the first American leader to ever meet with his North Korean counterpart on Tuesday morning in Singapore.
Trump, who recently said he would be able to use his “touch” and “feel” to tell if Kim will surrender his nuclear weapons, patted the North Korean dictator on the back five times after their 13-second handshake at the ritzy Capella resort.
“I feel really great,” Trump told reporters before sitting down with Kim behind closed doors for a one-on-one discussion. “We’re going to have great discussions and tremendous success. It is my honor, and we will have a terrific relationship.”
Kim was more reserved.
“It has not been easy to come to this point,” he said in Korean. “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.”
Trump’s superlative-ridden pre-summit gaggle proved a sharp contrast from his musings earlier in the day.
Even before the on-again, off-again summit began, Trump cast doubt over its outcome, announcing he would depart Singapore on Tuesday night — after first saying he would consider staying longer depending on the progress of the negotiations. Trump’s announcement came shortly after Kim said he would head back to North Korea immediately after the diplomatic date.
After their high-profile handshake, the two leaders sat down alone for 45 minutes, joined only by a couple of translators. It was “very, very good,” Trump told reporters after exiting the talk.
Chief of staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton then joined Trump, Kim and senior representatives of the Communist nation for a working lunch of beef short ribs, sweet and sour crispy pork and braised codfish. Among the side dishes were prawn cocktail, two kinds of salads and potatoes dauphinois, a French dish made with cheese and garlic.
It was not clear late Monday (EDT), what was discussed, or if a path toward a denuclearized North Korea was in the making.
What did appear clear was that Trump would not bring up human rights issues with Kim.
Despite highlighting Pyongyang’s horrific human rights record during his first State of the Union address in January, Trump has skirted those concerns since first agreeing to a summit with Kim in March. When he met with ex-North Korean military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol at the White House earlier this month, Trump said human rights hadn’t come up, underscoring its secondary place to nuclear weapons in his mind.
News of the private session between Trump and Kim drew concern from national security experts, who noted it’s common for U.S. Presidents to have senior advisers present for such high-stakes talks.
“Bad idea,” tweeted Paul Haenle, a former National Security Council director in the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. “I could see Trump giving up a lot for very little in return.”
Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey called the tête-à-tête an “unacceptable danger to U.S. national security.”
Also present in Singapore for the historic rendezvous was ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman, who has met Kim several times since 2013.
Rodman wept during a bizarre CNN interview late Monday, in which he praised Kim as “a big kid” who “loves to have a good time.”
Rodman, 57, also claimed Trump’s “secretary” recently reached out to thank him.
“She called me and said, ‘Dennis, Donald Trump is so proud of you, and he thanks you a lot,’” he said.
Trump has vacillated between expressing hope for a “great” summit and questioning whether it would happen at all. After a North Korean official blasted Vice President Pence as “stupid” last month, Trump abruptly canceled the meeting. Less than a week later, Trump said it was back on.
Shortly before departing his hotel Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted meetings between U.S. and North Korean representatives were going “well and quickly … but in the end, that doesn’t matter.”
“We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!” Trump added.
Trump’s strategy for the summit has remained a mystery. He raised eyebrows last week when he told reporters he didn’t think he would need to “prepare very much” since “it’s about attitude” and getting “things done.”
He jetted to the Singapore summit from Quebec, Canada, where he had stunned U.S. allies at the G7 meeting by refusing to sign a joint communique and proposing to readmit Russia to the international consortium.
Democrats and foreign policy experts have blasted Trump’s willingness to embrace adversaries and remained skeptical about his summit with Kim late Monday, noting there was no plan of denuclearization on the table and no concrete concession offers from North Korea.
“We are deeply concerned by the administration’s sidelining of diplomacy and undermining of American leadership on the global stage,” the ranking Democrats on the foreign affairs, armed services and intelligence committees said in a joint statement. “With his behavior at the G7 summit, the President alienated our closest friends at a time when the United States should be affirming the western alliance.”