SINGAPORE – Broad smiles and a firm handshake kicked off the first meeting between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as Singapore prepares to host a historic summit whose twists and turns have enraptured the world.
The two leaders discussed relations between their countries, developments in North Korea and the region, including recent positive developments on the Korean peninsula, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement.
“Prime Minister Lee complimented the bold and admirable decision by Chairman Kim and President of the United States Donald Trump to come together for this Summit,” it said.
Mr Lee also wished Mr Kim success for the summit, and expressed the hope that it would help along prospects for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and the wider region.
Come Tuesday (June 12), after a volley of taunts and overtures that saw planned talks between North Korea and the United States scrapped and then resurrected, Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump will finally come face-to-face at the Capella hotel on Sentosa.
They are looking to hammer out a deal that may see North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for security guarantees.
Mr Lee is slated to meet separately with each leader at the Istana in the run-up to the summit.
On Sunday evening, he had his meeting with Mr Kim, who earlier in the day was welcomed at Changi Airport by Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung after his Air China flight touched down.
On Monday, Mr Lee will meet Mr Trump, who is due to arrive on Sunday night from Canada, where he skipped out on the G-7 summit early and angered allies with barbed insults and threats of a trade war.
Ahead of the landmark talks, which many hope will pave the way for permanent peace in the Korean peninsula as well, camaraderie was in the air at the Istana, as Mr Kim and Mr Lee, speaking through an interpreter, exchanged warm greetings.
Thanking Mr Lee for hosting the summit., Mr Kim said: “The entire world is focusing on the historic summit between the DPRK and the US, and thanks to your sincere efforts… we were able to complete the preparations for the historic summit, and I would like to thank you for that.”
If it is successful, he added, he was sure Singapore would go down in history.
Mr Lee said in response: “Thank you for coming to Singapore. Thank you for also asking to hold the summit in Singapore.”
He added that Singapore had been following developments on the Korean peninsula for a very long time. “We have watched the struggles, and the sacrifices and the progress of the people,” he said.
Mr Kim – who is the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, North Korea’s highest decision-making body – also shook hands with Dr Vivian, Mr Ong, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs as well as Defence Maliki Osman and Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information as well as Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann.
It was a busy Sunday for Mr Lee, as preparations for the summit around the island kicked into high gear.
He had earlier in the day visited Singapore Armed Forces troops deployed at Palawan Kidz City on Sentosa, as well as the Home Team command post.
He also made a stop at the international media centre at the F1 Pit Building, which will be the base for the thousands of journalists in town to cover the meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kim.
Singapore was tapped to host the summit because of its neutrality and security, the White House had said in May.
The country has diplomatic ties with both North Korea and the US.
The North Koreans recognized Singapore’s independence in 1967, and have had an embassy in the country since the 1970s. And Singapore has over the decades a built a relationship of trust and reliability with the US.
The country is also no stranger to hosting historic summits, having in 2015 been the site of a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping met Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou – the first time leaders from both sides met since Taiwan’s separation from the mainland in 1949.
It has been a roller-coaster road to the Trump-Kim summit, echoing the rocky relationship between the two unpredictable leaders, which has swung wildly between insults and cajolery.
And it could, Mr Trump has made clear, be their last shot at working together towards some promise of peace.
Just before he made his early exit from the G-7 summit in Charlevoix Canada, Mr Trump told reporters: “I feel that Kim Jong Un wants to do something great for his people and he has that opportunity. He won’t have that opportunity again.”