SINGAPORE - Chosen to host the historic summit for its neutrality and strict laws, the tiny Asian city-state of Singapore had been preparing hard for weeks to serve as a secure venue for a meeting between two of the world’s most unpredictable leaders - the U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
On Monday, Singapore witnessed a huge influx of journalists and diplomats, even as diplomats from both, the U.S. and North Korea wrapped up last minute preparations and held preliminary meetings in the run-up to the meeting between both the leaders.
With hours to go before Trump and Kim Jong Un sit down face to face, accompanied only by translators, the White House sounded an optimistic tone, while North Korea hailed a new era of relations with the U.S.
The sense of anticipation was palpable on the island city-state, with U.S. and North Korean officials holding meetings at a hotel throughout the day, to outline specific goals the leaders will try to accomplish in their meetings.
The meetings served as an icebreaker of sorts as the teams worked to get better acquainted after decades of minimal U.S.-North Korea contact.
Both sides have tried to keep expectations from their respective countries and the world at bay.
Trump, who is staying at the luxurious and heavily guarded Shangri-La Hotel, which is less than half a mile from Kim Jong Un’s St. Regis Hotel, forecast a "nice" outcome.
Trump sat down for a working lunch with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana House.
Sounding optimistic, Trump reportedly told Loong, “We've got a very interesting meeting, in particular, tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely."
Officials confirmed that Trump also called the leaders of South Korea and Japan before the summit.
Trump arrived in Singapore on Sunday, after wrapping up a highly contentious meeting with leaders from the rest of the Group of Seven (G7) countries over his trade tariffs.
The meeting ended on a sour note, with the disagreements threatening to now alienate the U.S. from its closest Western allies - the U.K., France, Germany and Canada.
Now, Trump is believed to be chasing a potential breakthrough with North Korea, which would give him a definite victory not only amid the controversies at home, but also on the world stage.
On Tuesday, Trump - who once nicknamed the notorious dictator Kim Jong Un, the ‘Little Rocket Man’ - would become the first ever sitting U.S. President to meet a North Korean head of state.
Trump has said that he is positive that the meeting will result in the start of the process towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
His administration has also indicated that in return for giving up its nuclear program, the U.S. was willing to offer North Korea relief from the crippling economic sanctions that has plunged the nation in famine and isolation.
Meanwhile, North Korea, which informed its citizens of the meeting only on Monday through its State Media, has continued to surprise global experts and leaders.
On Monday, an editorial in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea informed readers that the country’s leader had travelled to Singapore to meet the U.S. leader to “establish a new relationship” with the U.S.
The editorial added that Kim Jong Un will attend the meeting on Tuesday to “meet the changing demands of the new era.”
Adding that “broad and in-depth opinions” would be exchanged to “establish a permanent and peaceful regime in the Korean peninsula and to solve problems that are of common concern, including issues to realize the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
The editorial also noted, “Even if a country had a hostile relationship with us in the past, our attitude is that if this nation respects our autonomy... we shall seek normalization through dialogue.”
The rare nature of the comments made in North Korea’s state-run media left experts wondering if it indicated a genuine shift in the perspective of the regime or was merely part of the pre-summit posturing that both sides have engaged in.
Meanwhile, the White House said on Monday that discussions between the U.S. and North Korea “have moved more quickly than expected.”
Indicating that the swift pace of talks possibly means that Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un could not extend into a second day.
The White House said in the statement that the two leaders will participate in a one-on-one meeting, accompanied only by translators, to be followed by a “working lunch” with an expanded group of officials.
Mike Pompeo, chief of staff John Kelly, national security adviser John Bolton and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, along with a few others would be joining this work lunch.
At the end of the summit, Trump plans to address reporters before flying home.
The statement also expressed optimism about the historic meeting and said, “The discussions between the United States and North Korea are ongoing and have moved more quickly than expected.”
Further, commenting on the summit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is prepared to offer “different” and “unique” security assurances to North Korea in exchange for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear program.
He, however, refused to answer how the U.S. would respond to North Korea’s long-standing demand of the removal of American troops from South Korea.
The joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. military forces in the country have angered North Korea, which views them as an existential threat to its regime.
The joint drills have provoked threats from Pyongyang, which has intensified its nuclear program in response.
Yet, the summit represents a massive risk as a failed meeting could bring the two countries closer to a military conflict.
Trump, who calls himself the world’s best dealmaker is facing increased political pressure to make some genuine progress during the summit and the meeting is set to be a true test of his unorthodox approach to foreign policy.
Pompeo told reporters on Monday, “I'm very optimistic that we will have a successful outcome from tomorrow's meeting between the two leaders. It's the case, in each of those two countries, there are only two people that can make decisions of this magnitude. And those two people are going to be sitting in a room together tomorrow.”
Trump and Kim Jong Un are scheduled to meet on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. local time.