Unscripted moments steal show

When the President of the US pulls out an iPad and shows the leader of North Korea a slick, bombastic video - essentially a Hollywood-style trailer presenting the North's possible future, featuring fighter jets and missile launches cut together with images of dancing children, artisanal pizza and time-lapse sunrises over skyscrapers - you know this is not an ordinary summit meeting.

By Motoko Rich in Singapore
  • Published 13.06.18
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SUMMIT STROLL: President Donald Trump (left) walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island, Singapore, on Tuesday. (Kevin Lim/The Straits Times via Reuters)

Singapore: When the President of the US pulls out an iPad and shows the leader of North Korea a slick, bombastic video - essentially a Hollywood-style trailer presenting the North's possible future, featuring fighter jets and missile launches cut together with images of dancing children, artisanal pizza and time-lapse sunrises over skyscrapers - you know this is not an ordinary summit meeting.

Then again, the historic encounter between President Trump and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, was never going to be just any summit.

The video - which the White House also showed to the travelling press corps before Trump answered questions at a rambling news conference - showcased the President's reality TV sensibility.

Complete with an ominous voice-over and a swelling soundtrack, the film staked out a choice for Kim without specifically mentioning nuclear weapons or sanctions relief: He could "shake the hand of peace and enjoy prosperity like he has never seen," or slide back into "more isolation".

From the moment the on-again, off-again summit between President Trump and Kim was declared back on just two weeks ago, it was a foregone conclusion that it would be one of the most dramatic meetings ever between two world leaders.

Although the declaration that emerged from the meeting did not substantively advance efforts to denuclearise North Korea, the symbolism of the meeting between the leaders of two enemy countries was enormous.

President Donald Trump (left) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (second from left) his car, nicknamed “The Beast”, after a working lunch in Singapore on Tuesday. (Host Broadcaster/via Reuters)

For Kim, a millennial dictator who has ordered the executions of 340 people, including his own uncle and half brother, it was North Korea's de facto legitimisation on the international stage, a masterful propaganda coup for the reclusive rogue state.

For Trump, it was a chance to claim his place in history, as the first sitting American President to meet a North Korean leader.

Together, they created political theatre like no other.

Kim's meeting with Trump, on the resort island of Sentosa off the southern tip of Singapore, also had a decidedly different flavour than Kim's first meeting in April with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea at Panmunjom.

The stagecraft of Trump's encounter with Kim did not appear as sophisticated. But there were plenty of riveting scenes, including several clearly spontaneous moments that heightened the drama.

Just after Trump and Kim took a brief stroll after lunch, the President led Kim to take a look inside the Cadillac presidential limo known as the Beast. For a second it looked as if Kim might climb inside before his aides stopped him.

And as the pair retreated to a corridor encircling the Capella Singapore hotel, they huddled with advisers, including John R. Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, and Kim Yo-jong, Kim's sister.

For several minutes the group looked confused about where they were supposed to go next, with Bolton appearing particularly agitated over Trump's shoulder.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE