‘One-time shot’ at peace

Published June 11, 2018, 11:34 AM

by AJ Siytangco


By Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, and Reuters

SINGAPORE (AFP/Reuters/AP) – US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet today for an unprecedented summit, with Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal at the top of the agenda and the US president calling it a “one-time shot” at peace.

North Korean security personnel keep watch outside the St. Regis hotel, where Kim Jong Un is staying for the Singapore summit. (AFP / Ted ALJIBE / MANILA BULLETIN)
North Korean security personnel keep watch outside the St. Regis hotel, where Kim Jong Un is staying for the Singapore summit. (AFP / Ted ALJIBE / MANILA BULLETIN)

The two leaders will meet at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) Tuesday at the Capella on Sentosa island, a refurbished British Army artillery mess that is one of Singapore’s most expensive hotels.

Trump and Kim will start their historic summit with a one-on-one session with translators.

A US official said on Monday that the leaders will meet for up to two hours before an expanded bilateral meeting with their respective advisers.

Bringing the Korean War to a formal end 65 years after hostilities ceased will also be on the table at the first-ever meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting president of its ”imperialist enemy.”

US and North Korean officials held talks on Monday in a late bid to narrow differences before Kim and Trump hold their summit.

Commenting for the first time on the agenda, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said the two sides would exchange “wide-ranging and profound views” to re-set relations. It heralded the summit as part of a “changed era.”

Kim arrived in Singapore on board an Air China 747 that, according to flight tracking website Flightradar24, took off from Pyongyang in the morning ostensibly bound for Beijing then changed its flight number in midair and headed south.

He was driven into the city center in a stretch Mercedes-Benz limousine accompanied by a convoy of more than 20 vehicles, and later met Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, thanking him for hosting the event.

“If the summit becomes a success, the Singaporean efforts will go down in history,” Kim said.

Trump landed in the evening after a long flight from Canada and the G7 meeting there, telling Singaporean officials who welcomed him that he was feeling ”very good” about the summit.

Trump met with Singapore’s Prime Minister on the eve of Tuesday’s historic summit. The US leader arrived at the Istana, Singapore’s government house, shortly before noon. He and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had a one-on-one meeting before they were joined by aides for a larger working lunch.

‘Not just a photo op’

Washington is demanding the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the North, while Pyongyang has so far only made public pledges of its commitment to the denuclearization of the peninsula – a term open to wide interpretation – while seeking security guarantees in return.

In a report describing Kim’s departure from Pyongyang, KCNA said a ”changed era” had come about, adding that views on achieving denuclearization and a ”permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean Peninsula” would be exchanged at the summit. But former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said he expects little progress on the key issue of defining the parameters of denuclearization.

”The success will be in the shutter clicks of the cameras,” he said. ”They both get what they want.”

Trump insisted last week that the summit would ”not be just a photo op”, saying it would help forge a ”good relationship” that would lead to a ”process” towards the ”ultimate making of a deal”.

But as he embarked for Singapore he changed his tune, calling it a ”one-time shot” and adding he will know ”within the first minute” whether an agreement will be possible.

”If I think it won’t happen, I’m not going to waste my time,” he said.

On Sunday Pope Francis struck an optimistic note, saying he hoped the talks might ”ensure a future of peace for the Korean peninsula and the whole world.”

Decades of tensions

The two countries have been at loggerheads for decades.

The North invaded the South in 1950 and the ensuing war pitted US-led UN troops backing Seoul against Pyongyang’s forces which were aided by China. The conflict ended in an armistice which sealed the division of the peninsula.

Occasional provocations by the North have continued while Pyongyang has made increasing advances in its nuclear arsenal, which it says it needs to defend against the risk of a US invasion.

Last year it carried out by far its most powerful nuclear test to date and launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, while Trump threatened the North with ”fire and fury” and Kim dubbed him a ”mentally deranged US dotard”.

But the South’s Winter Olympics in February were the catalyst for a flurry of diplomatic moves as South Korea’s dovish leader Moon Jae-in sought to bring the two sides together.

Kim has met twice with both Moon and Xi Jinping, the president of China, long the North’s most important ally.

Pyongyang has taken some steps to show sincerity, returning three US detainees and blowing up the entrances to its nuclear test site.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that progress was being made in bringing the two sides together in their understanding of denuclearization.

But Trump baffled observers when he said he did not think he had to prepare ”very much” for the summit.

”It’s about attitude,” Trump said. ”So this isn’t a question of preparation.”

Permanent peace-keeping mechanism

North Korea’s state media said on Monday its leader and Trump will discuss a “permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism” on the Korean Peninsula, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern.

The report also said Kim was accompanied by his foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, defense minister No Kwang Chol and sister Kim Yo Jong.

Enemies since the 1950-53 Korean War, leaders of North Korea and the United States have never met previously – or even spoken on the telephone.