By Steve Herman
President Donald Trump sounded optimistic about persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program after a lengthy one-on-one meeting with leader Kim Jong Un. Kim appeared to echo the president’s optimism.
Trump said Tuesday at the beginning of expanded discussions with aides from both countries that “We will solve a big problem” and “a big dilemma.”
He talked about the two leaders achieving “tremendous success together” and predicted “it will be successful. It will be done.”
It was hard to hear the president and Kim over the clicking of camera shutters, and it remains unclear precisely what he was referring to.
Earlier Trump and Kim met one on one for about 40 minutes with only their interpreters. They then headed to a larger meeting with aides.
Trump was flanked in the larger meeting by chief of staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton. They sat across the table from Kim and his team.
Earlier Tuesday morning the two leaders shook hands before retreating inside a Singapore hotel to begin that one-on-one discussion about the possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
To the sound of dozens of cameras, the two leaders met in front of a background of U.S. and North Korean flags in an unprecedented event — the first meeting of a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
Trump’s motorcade arrived first at the Capella Hotel on Singapore’s resort island of Sentosa. Kim’s motorcade arrived a few minutes later.
The two men sat side-by-side before beginning their solo talks with Trump predicting a “great discussion.”
“We’re going to be tremendously successful and it’s my honor, and we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt,” Trump said.
Kim said through an interpreter that it was “not easy to get here” and that “old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward, but we overcame all of them and we are here today.”
The White House announced Monday that Trump would leave Singapore Tuesday night after meeting with Kim, adding that talks between U.S. and North Korean officials “are ongoing and have moved more quickly than expected.”
A White House statement said Trump would hold a one-on-one meeting with Kim Tuesday morning, with only translators present, followed by a working lunch and an expanded bilateral meeting that will include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The U.S. president will then address the media before flying out late Tuesday Singapore time. Previous reports had suggested Trump would leave Wednesday.
On the eve of the first encounter between a sitting U.S. president and a leader of North Korea, American officials are maintaining that any resulting agreement must lead to an end of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile threats.
There will not be a repeat of “flimsy agreements” made between previous U.S. administrations and North Korea, Secretary Pompeo told reporters in Singapore on Monday.
“The ultimate objective we seek from diplomacy with North Korea has not changed — the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korea Peninsula is only outcome that the United States will accept,” Pompeo said.
Sanctions will remain until North Korea completely and verifiably eliminates its weapons of mass destruction programs, Pompeo added.
“If diplomacy does not move in the right direction, those measures will increase,” he said.
Pompeo said he was “very optimistic” the meeting Tuesday between Trump and Kim would “have a successful outcome.”
He declined, however, to reveal any details of the preliminary discussions held Monday between U.S. and North Korean officials.
Pompeo did say the United States is “prepared to take what will be security assurances that are different, unique that America has been willing to provide previously. That’s necessary and appropriate.”
But when pressed by reporters, the secretary of state would not say whether that could include reduction of the number of or removal of U.S. troops in South Korea.
It is also unclear whether U.S. officials will raise human rights issues in meetings with the North Koreans. Ahead of his trip, President Trump said “every issue will be raised.” But he did not address human rights issues when he met with Kim’s top aide, Kim Yong-cho. Critics say ignoring the issue risks squandering leverage and abandoning the North’s victims.
Trump attended a working lunch Monday hosted by Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, at the Istana, which is the official residence of the city state’s president.
“We have a very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely,” Trump told Lee. “We appreciate your hospitality and professionalism and your friendship.”
Trump was presented with a birthday cake by his Singaporean host. The U.S. president turns 72 on June 14.
Trump also spoke by telephone Monday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, according to officials in Seoul who predicted that if Tuesday’s Singapore summit is a success it would be a “gift” to the entire world.
“President Moon and President Trump agreed Trump and Kim will be able to make a great achievement if the two leaders come together to find a common denominator through frank discussions,” Blue House spokesman Kim Eu-kyeom told reporters.
The spokesman said Trump told Moon he would send Pompeo to Seoul immediately after the summit to explain its outcome.
About 5,000 journalists are in Singapore for the occasion, but only a handful of American and North Korean reporters and photographers were permitted at the venue when the two leaders greeted each other.
Bill Gallo contributed to this report .