SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Singapore on Sunday for a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that could lay the groundwork for ending a nuclear stand-off between the old foes and the transformation of the isolated state.
Trump flew into Singapore’s Paya Lebar Air Base aboard Air Force One looking to strike a deal that will lead to the denuclearization of one of America’s bitterest foes, following a divisive meeting in Canada with some of Washington’s closest allies that further strained global trade ties.
After stepping down from Air Force One on a steamy tropical night, Trump was greeted by Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Asked by a reporter how he felt about the summit, Trump said: “Very good”. He then got into his limousine for the drive to his hotel in central Singapore.
North Korea’s Kim landed in Singapore earlier on Sunday.
When Trump and Kim meet on Tuesday at Sentosa, a resort island off Singapore’s port with a Universal Studios theme park and man-made beaches, they will be making history.
Enemies since the 1950-53 Korean War, leaders of North Korea and the United States have never met previously – or even spoken on the telephone.
Kim arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport after his longest trip overseas as head of state, wearing his trademark dark “Mao suit” and distinctive high cut hairstyle.
Arriving on a plane loaned by China, he was also greeted by Balakrishnan.
Traveling with Kim were top officials including Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Kim Yong Chol, a close aide of Kim who has been instrumental in the diplomacy that culminated in Tuesday’s summit.
Kim Yo Jong, leader Kim’s younger sister, was also spotted in his delegation. She emerged as an influential figure in Pyongyang’s opaque leadership in February, when she led a North Korean delegation to the winter Olympics in South Korea.
Officials who arrived with Trump include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Bolton’s hardline rhetoric last month infuriated North Korea and nearly derailed the summit. He called for North Korea to follow a “Libya model” in negotiations. Libya unilaterally surrendered its nuclear program in 2003, but its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was killed in 2011 by NATO-backed rebels.
‘SPUR OF THE MOMENT’
Trump, speaking in Canada on Saturday, said any agreement at the summit would be “spur of the moment,” underscoring the uncertain outcome of what he called a “mission of peace”.
Senior U.S. officials, echoing what Trump has said in recent days, said that at a minimum they would like the summit to serve as a start of a dialogue with North Korea.
They expect the North Koreans to ask for security guarantees, including a pledge that the United States and South Korea will not invade, and also a request for economic aid.
The Trump administration has already said it does not seek “regime change” and has no intention of sending its forces into the country. Washington has refrained from promising economic assistance but has suggested this could come from South Korea, China and Japan if Pyongyang agrees to denuclearize.
Kim met Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shortly after his arrival, driving from the St. Regis Hotel where he is staying, through the famous Orchard Road shopping district, which was closed off for his tightly guarded motorcade.
At the hotel lobby, grim-faced North Korean security guards warned other hotel guests not to take pictures as Kim walked to his Mercedes Benz limousine.
In his first public comments since arriving, Kim said Singapore’s role would be recorded in history if the summit was a success.
Trump, who is staying at the Shangri-La Hotel, is due to meet Lee on Monday.
At stake at the summit are North Korea’s nuclear weapons and peace on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea spent decades developing nuclear weapons, culminating in the test of a thermonuclear device in 2017. It also successfully tested missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland.
The tests came amid a campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea, led by the United States, that tightened economic sanctions and the possibility of military action.
The two leaders exchanged insults as fears of war grew.
But then in a New Year’s address, Kim sounded a conciliatory note, saying his country had completed development of its nuclear program and would focus on economic development.
He also suggested a meeting with South Korea.
After a flurry of contacts between the two Koreas, South Korean officials suggested to Trump in March that Kim would be willing to meet face-to-face.
The summit comes after weeks of sometimes-contentious discussions and was briefly canceled amid North Korean outrage over Bolton’s comments.
Many remain skeptical Kim will ever completely abandon its cherished nuclear weapons.
Analysts believe Kim’s latest engagement is aimed at getting the United States to ease the crippling sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country.
For Trump, a successful summit will see him achieve badly needed recognition on the international stage ahead of congressional elections in November.
Believed to be 34, Kim is one of the youngest heads of state in the world and looks an unlikely candidate to be making history of the kind that has eluded his father and grandfather, both past leaders of North Korea.
But since taking power in 2011 after his father’s death, the youthful Kim has displayed a mixture of ruthlessness, pragmatism and statecraft to get this prize: to sit across the table with the leader of the United States and be treated as an equal.
The two leaders meet at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Tuesday at the Capella on Sentosa island, a refurbished British Army artillery mess that is one of Singapore’s most expensive hotels.
A source involved in the planning of Kim’s trip said he was scheduled to leave Singapore at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
Trump is scheduled to leave on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Dewey Sim, Aradhana Aravindan, Joyce Lee and Grace Lee, Soyoung Kim, Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel