SINGAPORE - The eyes of the world upon them, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un headed on Monday into their historic summit balancing the elusive promise of peace against the specter of a growing nuclear threat. Yet even before they met, Trump announced plans to leave early, raising questions about whether his aspirations for an ambitious outcome had been scaled back.
The first-ever meeting between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader was to kick off at 9 a.m. Tuesday with a handshake, an image sure to be devoured from Washington to Pyongyang and beyond. Trump and Kim planned to meet one-on-one for most of an hour- joined only by translators. Then aides to each were to come in for more discussions and a working lunch.
In the run-up to the talks in Singapore, Trump had optimistically predicted the two men could strike a nuclear deal or forge a formal end to the Korean War in the course of a single meeting or over several days. But on the eve of the summit, the White House unexpectedly announced Trump would depart Singapore by Tuesday evening, meaning his time with Kim would be fairly brief. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to keep expectations for the summit in check.
“We are hopeful this summit will have set the conditions for future successful talks,” Pompeo said, describing a far more modest goal than Trump had outlined days earlier.
The sudden change in schedule added to a dizzying few days of foreign policy activity for Trump, who shocked U.S. allies over the weekend when he used a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies in Canada to alienate America’s closest friends in the West. Lashing out over trade practices, Trump lobbed insults at his G-7 host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump left the summit early, and as he flew to Singapore, he tweeted that he was yanking the U.S. out of the group’s traditional closing statement.
As for Singapore, the White House said Trump was leaving early because negotiations had moved “more quickly than expected,” but gave no details about any possible progress in preliminary talks. On the day before the meeting, weeks of preparation appeared to pick up in pace, with U.S. and North Korean officials meeting throughout Monday at a Singapore hotel.
The president planned to stop in Guam and Hawaii on his way back to Washington.
Trump spoke only briefly in public on Monday, forecasting a “nice” outcome. Kim spent the day mostly out of view - until he left his hotel for a late-night tour of Singapore sights.