U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges he is heading into “unknown territory” in his summit with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore.
In response to a question from VOA News just before heading to Asia from the Group of Seven summit in Canada, Trump said “I really feel confident” about the unprecedented encounter between a sitting American president and a member of the family dynasty that has maintained iron-fist control over one of the world’s most reclusive countries for three generations.
Trump added that he believed Kim, half the age of the American president, “wants to do something great for his people.” But he cautioned that Kim “won’t have that opportunity again” if the talks do not go well — describing this opportunity for diplomacy with the United States as a “one-time shot.”
Trump and others in his government have said advancement has been made on obtaining a commitment from Kim to give up all his nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. Progress could lead to a peace treaty and formally end a state of war on the Korean Peninsula, which has persisted for nearly 70 years.
A quick read
Whether such a deal can be done, Trump declared Saturday, is something he will know almost from the moment they meet.
“I think within the first minute — my touch, my feel, that’s what I do,” the president said, touting his deal-making experience as a businessman.
If that feeling is not positive, Trump predicted, “I don’t want to waste my time. I don’t want to waste his time.”
Trump spoke to a group of White House reporters in Charlevoix in the Canadian province of Quebec after cutting short his appearance at the G-7 leaders’ gathering.
The president acknowledged the difficulty of gleaning much information concerning Kim, who has scant experience on the international stage and about whom foreign intelligence agencies have struggled to gather much beyond basic biographical data.
“This is a leader who is really an unknown personality,” Trump said.
Despite that, “we’re going in with a very positive spirit” and “I think very well-prepared.”
Trump pushed back on criticism that giving the North Korean leader a meeting with an American president was a major concession made with nothing of value received in return. He noted Pyongyang’s recent goodwill gesture of releasing “three hostages” — Americans who had been imprisoned in the country — and said that was enough for him to proceed with the summit.
“It’s never been done before,” Trump said of a U.S.-North Korean leaders’ meeting. “Obviously, what has been done before hasn’t worked.”
Risk of failure
U.S. officials traveling with the president — as well as analysts — have acknowledged the risk that even the smallest of perceived slights by either side could prompt one of the leaders to instantly call it all off.
Trump has had recent discussions with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping — who all have vested interests in the outcome — about matters he plans to raise.
Asked by VOA News whether he would bring up North Korea’s egregious human rights record, including its system of gulags for civilians deemed enemies of the state, and the unresolved fate of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents over the decades, Trump replied, “We’re going to bring everything up.”
The president was being accompanied on his trip to the Far East by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has visited Pyongyang twice to prepare for the summit, and national security adviser John Bolton, a hardliner on dealing with North Korea. Also on Air Force One, which is to arrive Sunday evening in Singapore, was White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, other officials of the National Security Council and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.