World News

Before Summit With North Korea, Trump Is Heard (on Twitter) but Little Seen

Posted June 11, 2018 9:03 a.m. EDT

SINGAPORE — President Donald Trump paid his respects here Monday to Singapore’s leader, a day before he is scheduled to make history in this prosperous Southeast Asian city-state by meeting Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

“We’ve got a very interesting meeting, in particular, tomorrow, and I just think it’s going to work out very nicely,” Trump told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, as the two men sat down for lunch in the colonial-era building that houses Lee’s office.

“We do appreciate your hospitality, your professionalism and your friendship,” Trump added.

Singapore’s government has turned this futuristic city into a giant stage set for Trump and Kim. On Tuesday, they will meet in a hotel on the nearby island of Sentosa, where tourists and locals go to visit the Universal Studios theme park or the crescent-shaped beach.

For Trump, Monday was a brief intermission between the tumult of an acrimonious Group of 7 meeting in Canada over the weekend and the looming spectacle of his encounter with Kim on Tuesday.

Trump stayed largely out of sight Monday in the heavily guarded Shangri-La Hotel, where he has been closeted with aides since landing in Singapore on Sunday evening. Less than a mile away, as if in a rival armed camp, Kim hunkered down at his own equally fortified hotel, the St. Regis.

Aside from the meeting and lunch with Lee, and a greeting to U.S. diplomats based here, White House officials said, Trump’s day was occupied by last-minute cramming for Kim.

But Trump refused to let go of his rancorous clash with European allies over trade. On Monday morning, from his hotel, he unleashed a fusillade of angry posts on Twitter about what he said were the predatory trade practices of Canada and several European countries.

“Sorry, we cannot let our friends, or enemies, take advantage of us on Trade anymore,” the president said in a tweet. “We must put the American worker first!”

Trump’s harsh words about the nation’s closest allies stood in stark contrast to his expression of sunny feelings toward Kim, a brutal dictator who, only a few months ago, threatened the United States with a nuclear attack and traded bitterly personal insults with Trump.

“Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air!” tweeted Trump, who had yet to set foot outside his hotel since arriving.

While Trump consulted with his closest aides — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton — a team of U.S. diplomats met at another nearby hotel for a final negotiating session with their North Korean counterparts.

The two sides were trying to lock down the language of a joint communiqué to be issued by Trump and Kim at the end of their meeting. The document is likely to have three sections, according to a person briefed on the negotiations, dealing with denuclearization, security guarantees for the North and immediate steps to be taken by both sides.

The administration recruited Sung Y. Kim, a seasoned North Korea negotiator currently serving as U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, to lead that effort. Kim, the ambassador, and a small group of diplomats held a series of talks last week with the North Koreans in the town of Panmunjom, the so-called truce village in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

The White House and State Department have said little about those talks, though people briefed on them said U.S. negotiators found it difficult to make significant headway with the North Koreans, in part because the White House did not back them up in taking a hard line.

In his public statements, Trump has shown gradually greater flexibility toward North Korea, saying he viewed its disarmament as a “process,” rather than something to be done all at once, and disavowing the phrase “maximum pressure,” after making it the centerpiece of his policy. Some foreign-policy experts said the breakdown at the Group of 7 meeting would play to North Korea’s advantage, since Trump can ill afford a second failed summit, back to back. The president has consistently predicted success, even as his definition of that has grown foggier.

The unraveling of the Canada summit meeting increases the North Korean leader’s incentive to “up his asks and limit his compromises and for Trump to do the opposite,” Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said on Twitter, adding, “Hardly the ideal context.”

Still, other analysts said Kim was as determined as Trump to make this meeting a success. That, as much as Trump’s need for a win after Canada, may guarantee a positive outcome.

“The underlying driver is a transformational process of Kim Jong Un leading North Korea into a new place in the region and the world,” said John Delury, a professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Kim and Trump both seem to want the same thing: a dramatic reversal in the U.S.-North Korea relationship, which can be attributed to their vision.”