It’s the photo op heard round the world.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands Tuesday morning on the island of Sentosa in Singapore, the first time sitting leaders of the two countries have met face to face. The historic handshake kicks off a high-stakes nuclear summit that has been months in the making.
Trump — whose awkward handshakes with world leaders are well-documented — and Kim grasped hands tightly while facing each other.
The two leaders shook hands a second time for the cameras, this time sitting side by side and making brief remarks. Trump, responding to a question from a reporter, said he expected he and Kim were “going to have a great discussion and I think tremendous success, it will be tremendously successful.”
“We will have a terrific relationship,” Trump added. “I have no doubt.”
Kim also commented, through an interpreter, about the summit. “The old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on the way forward,” the North Korean leader said, according to the pool report. “But we overcame them all and are here today.”
Trump and Kim’s first handshake was a dramatic moment, and likely one of the most consequential of Trump’s presidency no matter the outcome of the summit. Less than a year ago, Trump was threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” and Kim warned of a missile attack on the US territory of Guam.
The stunning diplomatic rapprochement between the US and North Korea — starting around the time of the Winter Olympics in South Korea — has offered Trump one of the defining opportunities of his administration to date. It’s also the riskiest.
Trump and Kim will now head into a one-on-one meeting where North Korea’s nuclear program will dominate the discussions. The US objective is, and has been, to achieve a “denuclearized” North Korea, though Kim and Trump may have different ideas on what that actually means.
Many experts and observers of North Korea believe it’s unlikely Kim will take this step, in part because it’s this same weapons program that helped grant him legitimacy on the world stage by getting him a sit-down with the US president. There are also fears that Trump — who’s indicated he’s relying more on instinct than preparation for the meeting — might grant unprecedented concessions to North Korea.
Trump has said he’ll know “within the first minute” whether Kim is serious about negotiations, though their one-on-one meeting is expected to last about 45 minutes. It will be followed by expanded bilateral talks between the two countries, then a working lunch.
The outcome of these talks is a wild card: A realistic framework for a US-North Korea nuclear agreement or a complete diplomatic breakdown are among the possibilities. Trump used the time ahead of his historic summit to tweet a reassurance that “We will be fine!” The two pulled off the handshake, at least.