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US president meets PM Lee at Istana, says Trump-Kim summit will 'work out nicely'

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US President Donald Trump shared a warm handshake with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in front of cameras at 12.45pm on Monday, as they began their meeting at the Istana.

[SINGAPORE]  US President Donald Trump expressed his gratitude on Monday to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for Singapore’s role in hosting the summit between the United States and North Korea, saying he appreciated the hospitality, professionalism and friendship.

"We have a very interesting meeting in particular tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely. But we appreciate your hospitality and professionalism and your friendship. Thank you very much," President Trump told Mr Lee as they began their working lunch at the Istana.

The two leaders shared a warm handshake in front of cameras at 12.45pm before they sat down for the meeting. 

Mr Trump, in his presidential state car nicknamed The Beast, left the Shangri-La Hotel with his delegation at about 11.45am. They arrived at the Istana before noon. 

He was accompanied by a convoy of more than 30 vehicles. Journalists and cameramen had been standing by around the hotel and the Istana for Mr Trump since about 10.30am.

Mr Trump's delegation includes the following:

Ms Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath, charge d'affaires of the US Embassy in Singapore; Mr Matthew Pottinger, senior director for Asian affairs of the US National Security Council (NSC); Mrs Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary; Mr John Bolton, US National Security Adviser; Mr Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State; Mr John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff; Mr Stephen Miller, senior adviser to the President for policy; Ms Mira Ricardel, Deputy National Security Adviser; Ms Sarah Tinsley, NSC senior director for strategic communications; Mr Peter Michael McKinley, US Ambassador to Brazil, and Ms Melissa Brown, Counsellor for Economic and Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Singapore.

Members of PM Lee's delegation include Deputy PM Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Home and Law Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung. 

Mr Ong posted a Facebook photo of Mr Trump, Mr Pompeo and Mr Kelly at the lunch. A copy of the menu was spotted in the photo. 

The Straits Times understands that the lunch is being catered by Gordon Grill at Goodwood Park Hotel. Dishes on the menu include angus beef tenderloin, lobster bisque and cherry jubilee with clotted ice cream. 

During the meeting, the officials also celebrated Mr Trump's birthday. He is turning 72 on June 14.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan posted a photo of Mr Trump posing with the birthday cake. "Celebrating birthday, a bit early," he wrote.

The US delegation left the Istana shortly after 2pm. 

He is expected to have a meet-and-greet session with US embassy staff and US military officers at Shangri-la Hotel after his engagement at the Istana.

Mr Trump landed at Paya Lebar Air Base just the night before, after attending the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Canada. He retracted his endorsement of the major economic powers' joint communique while on his way to Singapore.

Meanwhile, diplomats from the US and North Korea met behind closed doors at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel, in a bid to narrow their differences ahead of the summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim Jong Un on Tuesday morning.

Former US special representative for North Korea policy Sung Kim, who has been leading the US in talks with North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui in the border truce village of Panmunjom since last month, is said to be continuing the discussions with his counterpart in Singapore.

Top of the agenda is Pyongyang's complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation. Mr Kim is likely to ask for a security guarantee and the easing of sanctions in return, say analysts. A peace treaty ending the 1950-53 Korean War may also be on the table.

Before sitting down for talks on Tuesday, Mr Trump intends to meet one on one with Mr Kim, the White House said.

“We can expect a one on one at the beginning,” NSC spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters in Singapore on Monday.

Media reports earlier quoted sources as saying the two men will meet briefly, with just their interpreters but no aides in the room.

Mr Trump on Saturday said he believes he would know "within the first minute" of meeting Mr Kim if the North Korean leader is serious about surrendering his nuclear arsenal.

Top aides will join them for the formal talks later, and they will most likely include Mr Pompeo and Mr Bolton, as well as Mr Kim's sister, Ms Kim Yo Jong, and top aide and former spy chief Kim Yong Chol.

The summit is the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, and comes after a year of tension on the Korean peninsula stoked by Mr Kim's numerous missile tests and a "maximum pressure" campaign led by the US to curb Pyongyang.

THE STRAITS TIMES

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