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Both sides hopeful; consensus is that it's a long road ahead

Mr Trump (centre), who turns 72 on Thursday, was presented a birthday cake during his working lunch with PM Lee Hsien Loong (extreme left, facing camera) at the Istana on Monday.


ONE of the world's most anticipated and most important meetings in decades will take place on Tuesday morning inside a five-star luxury hotel on Sentosa, an island off the southern coast of Singapore.

That is when US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet face-to-face for the first time, for a summit that the rest of the world hopes will lay the foundation for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

This unprecedented meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader had been unimaginable at the start of the year.

As recently as May 24, Mr Trump had abruptly cancelled the summit, citing North Korea's "tremendous anger and open hostility". A week later, after a meeting with Mr Kim's trusted envoy Kim Yong Chol at the White House, the US president declared the summit was back on track.

No one knows for sure whether the closed-door meeting at the Capella Singapore hotel will definitely produce a positive outcome, although Mr Trump on Monday said at a bilateral meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that he thinks "things can work out very nicely".

In a statement on Monday evening, the White House said the discussions between the US and North Korea "are ongoing and have moved more quickly than expected".

It did not elaborate.

At the Capella on Tuesday, the two leaders will first have a one-on-one meeting, with only their translators present. They will then have an expanded bilateral session with other members of their respective delegations, followed by a working lunch.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency said Mr Kim and Mr Trump will discuss a "permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism" and "realising the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

An editorial in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of North Korea, raised the prospect that the North could "establish a new relationship" with the US. It added that Mr Kim had travelled to Singapore with the intention of meeting the US leader and meeting "the changing demands of the new era".

At a press conference at the JW Marriott Hotel, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Mr Trump had spoken to South Korean President Moon Jae In and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in separate phone calls on Monday.

At a meeting with top aides at his office on Monday, Mr Moon said the "deep-rooted hostile relationship and the North Korean nuclear issue cannot be resolved in one single action in a meeting between leaders".

He said: "Even after the two leaders open the dialogue, we will need a long process that may take one year, two years or even longer to completely resolve the issues."

At his press conference, Mr Pompeo said that complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation was the only outcome the US was willing to accept.

He added that Washington was prepared to provide North Korea with security assurances "fundamentally different from before" to achieve denuclearisation.

Government officials and analysts have also been weighing in on what they expect from the talks.

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who welcomed Mr Kim and Mr Trump on the tarmac after their respective flights landed here on Sunday, noted that both leaders are "supremely confident" and "hopeful".

"Both of them want something significant out of this summit, so I think let's wait and see," he said in an interview with the BBC on Monday. "We want to avoid wishful optimism. Nevertheless, a sense of realistic optimism is in the air."

When asked what his definition of a successful summit was, Dr Balakrishnan said the fact that the meeting was even taking place was a positive development.

"If you see a de-escalation of tension, which hopefully in turn would be accompanied by security guarantees on both sides, lowering the possibility of war and enhancing the prospects of economic development - all these would be signs of success."

Andrew Gilholm, the director of North Asia analysis at specialist risk consultancy Control Risks, noted that the summit would not even be taking place if there wasn't a basic agreement already in place that promises denuclearisation and improved relations.

"(The summit) will undoubtedly be criticised for not ensuring rapid, real denuclearisation, but that simply isn't going to happen. But if the process can be sustained, it will still be positive for regional stability," he said.

"Even in a best-case scenario, this will only be the beginning of the process - crucial details will still have to be worked out and there will be a lengthy, precarious implementation process. That means a persistent risk that things could unravel and return rapidly to the escalatory cycle we saw in 2017."

If all goes well on Tuesday morning, there is a chance that Mr Kim and Mr Trump could meet again as soon as July, this time in Pyongyang. South Korean daily Joongang Ilbo, citing an unnamed source in Singapore, said Mr Kim has invited Mr Trump to North Korea for a second summit in July.

The source said the Pyongyang meeting, if it happens, will follow up on the finer points of North Korea's denuclearisation, which the two leaders are expected to discuss in Singapore on Tuesday.

The report also said that if the second summit does go ahead, it may be followed by another summit in Washington in September.


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