Source:©2018 THE NEW YORK TIMES
SINGAPORE — The president of the United States pulled out an iPad and showed the leader of North Korea a slick, Hollywood-style trailer presenting the North's possible future.
There were images of fighter jets and missile launches cut together with shots of dancing children, pictures of artisanal pizza and time-lapse sunrises over skyscrapers.
This was no ordinary summit meeting.
Then again, no one really thought the historic encounter between President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, was going to be just any summit.
The meeting between these two figures — one a former reality TV star and the other a dictator who has tortured and imprisoned thousands of citizens, and ordered the executions of 340 people, including his own uncle and half brother — was expected to include lots of theatrics.
And it did.
The video came complete with an ominous voice-over and a swelling soundtrack as it staked out Kim's choice without 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."
Before the meeting, Kim posed for a selfie with Singapore's foreign minister, as if he were a fraternity brother blowing off his senior thesis for a night on the town.
During the meeting, Trump let Kim peek inside the Cadillac presidential limo known as the Beast, and for a second it looked as if Kim might climb inside.
And before the signing ceremony, a North Korean official wearing latex gloves appeared to clean and inspect a pen meant for Kim. No White House aide performed a similar service for Trump.
Although the declaration that emerged from the meeting did not substantively advance efforts to denuclearize North Korea, the symbolism of the meeting between the leaders of two enemy countries was enormous.
For Kim, it was North Korea's de facto legitimization 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.
Even though the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations, all of the pageantry pointed to a meeting between near equals — from the phalanx of American and North Korean flags that stood behind the leaders as they first met, to their joint entrance into the room where they signed a declaration.
The optics of Trump shaking Kim's hand, smiling and describing a "very special bond" between the two leaders, was in sharp contrast to Trump’s appearance at a bruising Group of 7 meeting in Canada just days earlier, where Trump had lashed out at America’s closest allies.
Kim's meeting with Trump, on the resort island of Sentosa off the southern tip of Singapore, also had a decidedly different flavor than Kim's first meeting in April with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea at Panmunjom, the border between the two Koreas.
That closely watched meeting, which in many ways set the stage for the Singapore summit, was expertly choreographed, with numerous images of harmony and lighthearted banter between the two leaders.
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 came Kim's chance to check out the Beast. Kim's aides stopped him from getting inside.
And as the pair retreated to a breezeway encircling the Capella Singapore hotel, they huddled with advisers, including John 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.
The summit's drama had begun the night before, when Kim emerged from his hotel after a day of seclusion and went on a sightseeing tour in Singapore.
On the way up to view the Singapore skyline from the roof of the Marina Bay Sands, a hotel owned by Trump supporter Sheldon Adelson, Kim waved jovially at bystanders. Then he took the selfie with Singapore's foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan.
It was yet another sign that the 34-year-old Kim is continuing to mount a charm offensive, trying to showcase a softer side.
- By Motoko Rich