Kim to Trump: ‘Many will think of this as a fantasy from science fiction’

More style than substance as US and North Korean leaders meet for first time

It was so surreal it almost looked like a special effect, or a stunt staged by the Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump impersonators doing the rounds in Singapore in the past few days.

But sure enough, standing in his Chairman Mao-style suit in the tropical heat, the North Korean leader was shaking the US president’s hand in front of a row of American and North Korean flags.

What seemed impossible nine months ago was real and for the first time after nearly seven decades of conflict, a sitting US president was meeting with the leader of its bitter enemy, North Korea.

Kim alluded to the strangeness of it all when he said to Trump how “many people in the world will think of this as a form of fantasy from a science-fiction movie.”

The body language was positive and the handshake was mercifully straightforward, without any jerky grabs or competitive squeezes. Both leaders were keen for the success of the summit, even if that came at the cost of any real substance.

When the joint statement came out after a working lunch, the main focus was on what it didn’t contain. There were no details on how denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula would actually roll out. Nothing on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

A jovial Trump then used a press conference to announce an end to joint military exercises with South Korea, which have irritated the North Koreans for many years. Apparently news that war games were to end took Seoul by surprise too, as it had not been briefed.

But more than this, there were a lot of expressly upbeat statements and gestures.

“We had a terrific day and we learned a lot about each other and our countries. I’ve learned that he is a very talented man who loves his country very much,” enthused Trump.

Surreal moments

A leader widely believed to have ordered the assassination last year of his half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur using the VX nerve gas agent and to have blown his uncle Chang Song-thaek with a howitzer, gets an easier ride than Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, dismissed last week by Trump as "dishonest and weak". Such are the times we live in.

In North Korea, the summit was widely reported, as the country marked what is probably the most significant moment yet as it seeks a place on the international stage.

North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper ran Kim's arrival in Singapore on the front page, including shots of Kim visiting various Singapore landmarks such as the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

The day produced its share of surreal moments. Former basketball star Dennis Rodman, who has visited North Korea on numerous occasions, appeared on CNN at one point, crying as he described his happiness that his two friends were able to find agreement.

Job done as far as he was concerned, Trump left Singapore a day early. The peace process will take more than just one meeting, the US leader said.

“We will be meeting together many times,” he said.