SINGAPORE — It was the North Korean dictator who best captured the day. Strolling with President Donald Trump along a colonnade at their luxury resort summit moments after their historic handshake, Kim Jong Un said that many people would think the scene came straight out of “a science fiction movie.”
He was right: The landmark summit between the two men was far out in almost every way, from the array of U.S. and North Korean flags draped side by side to the lunchtime menu of Korean delicacies alongside beef and potatoes.
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There were other bizarre elements, like the North Korean security official clad in latex gloves who emerged to inspect and swab down a pen Kim used to sign a vaguely worded commitment to a process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
Trump wrapped the day with an afternoon news conference that kicked off with a slick video offering a new vision of the future in which the U.S. and North Korea strike a peace deal and North Korea pulls itself into the modern era. “One moment, one choice,” a narrator intoned. “WHAT IF. The future remains to be written.”
During their meetings, Trump said, he had played the video — produced both in English and in Korean — for Kim. “I think he loved it,” said Trump, who speculated that North Korea’s beaches, which he said he’d seen in videos of their missile launches, would make a terrific real estate development opportunity if or when sanctions are lifted. He lavished praise on one of the world’s most brutal despots, citing his “great personality,” smarts and negotiating savvy. “Good combination,” Trump said.
Things were weird outside the Capella resort as well. There was a weeping Dennis Rodman, who traveled to Singapore for the event, and who before recent events was the highest-ranking American to meet with Kim. He appeared on CNN on Tuesday morning wearing a #MAGA hat to say he felt vindicated by the meeting.
Behind the scenes, it was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directing the wacky flick. Sitting in the front row at Trump’s end-of-day news conference, he wore a knowing smile when his rebellious star went off script.
Pompeo said at a briefing ahead of the summit that the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was the only outcome the U.S. would accept, though the agreement reached Tuesday fell short of that, instead reaffirming previous pledges by North Koreans and putting the issue of deliverables in Pompeo’s lap. The statement said that he, along with an unnamed North Korean official, would hold follow-on negotiations “at the earliest possible date.”
“Secretary Pompeo has been really doing a fantastic job,” Trump said. “I think the establishment of a new team was very important” in making the negotiations come together.
Pompeo replaced former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in late April and traveled to Pyongyang twice to meet with Kim before helping to bring the two leaders together on Tuesday. As Trump returns home to Washington via Guam and Hawaii, Pompeo will head to Beijing and Seoul to firm up the details of the agreement and massage relationships with both countries.
At times, Trump looked Pompeo’s way for prompts, an indication of his role as the president’s most trusted aide guiding the negotiations on matters big and small. Asked whether there was a transcript of his private conversation with Kim, Trump asked Pompeo: “Mike, do they have a transcript?”
And it was up to Pompeo, Trump said, to move the negotiations forward. “Mike, our whole team has to get to work and get it completed because otherwise, we’ve done a good job, but if you don’t get the ball over the goal line it doesn’t mean enough.”
The summit itself was as much a media spectacle as an act of statecraft. As Trump rode to the summit, Singapore’s immaculate streets were lined with spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of the motorcade.
“Getting a good picture everybody? So we look nice and handsome and thin?” Trump asked Singapore’s government television cameras before lunch with the North Korean dictator.
Reporters from both the U.S. and North Korea jostled in the sweltering heat to capture the first images of the two leaders — and then camped out in rival holding areas as their country’s top diplomats worked to reach an agreement.
Trump, who said over the weekend that he would know within a minute whether he could deal with Kim, declared their relationship “excellent” after their initial one-on-one meeting.
His assessment did not dim after an expanded bilateral meeting and a working lunch that included, on the American side, Pompeo as well as national security adviser John Bolton and White House chief of staff John Kelly.
“Top of the line,” the president told reporters of the day’s meetings.
Before a final news conference before his departure from Singapore, the president taped interviews with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Voice of America News and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
During his valedictory remarks, the president reiterated his confidence in his North Korean counterpart’s willingness to make a deal: “I think he might want to do this as much or even more than me.”