President Donald Trump has met Kim Jong Un, the first time any North Korean leader has met a sitting US president.
The two shook hands shortly after 9 a.m. (local time) on Sentosa Island in Singapore, where they will shortly begin a one-on-one meeting, accompanied only by translators. The 45 minute meeting will be followed by an expanded bilateral meeting with members of the Trump administration and then a working lunch.
Image-sensitive Trump has played down concerns the summit will achieve little.
“It’s going to be much more than a photo op,” Trump said at the White House last week.
But for Kim, even if today doesn’t provide an easing of sanctions, this very photo is enough reason for Kim to attend today’s summit as North Korea has wanted a meeting with a US president for decades.
“If it’s a bust, it’s still a win for the North Koreans, because you get the photograph of the North Korean leader meeting the American president one-to-one,” Robert Kelly, an expert on politics at South Korea’s Pusan National University, said while in Sydney recently. “Meeting the leader of the free world is automatically legitimacy branding.”
Euan Graham, the director of the Lowy Institute’s international-security program, agrees, recently telling Business Insider that what North Korea wants is to be seen as a “peer partner of the US.”
Shaking hands with the US president, with North Korean flags flying right alongside those from America, is an almost perfect photo op.
“That’s why I think Kim is prepared to take this risk of flying all the way there [to Singapore], even though that is unprecedented … because what he wants is this optic of meeting Trump as his nuclear equal on a grand stage and with South Korea not present,” Graham said. “I think that’s more effective as a symbol for him.”
Having watched Tuesday’s summit unfold, North Korean expert Ankit Panda tweeted that the day’s pageantry has served its purpose for Kim.
“The optics of this summit—from the handshakes, to the flag arrangements, to the seating arrangements—are indistinguishable from a meeting between two sovereign states with normal diplomatic relations. The legitimizing effect on North Korea’s regime is undeniable,” Panda said.