With a handshake in Singapore, US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un marked the beginning of their first one-on-one meeting after months of negotiations over narrowing their differences on how to end a nuclear standoff.
The two men strode toward each other and shared the handshake beneath the white-washed walls of an upscale hotel in neutral Singapore, before sitting down for a half-day of meetings with ramifications for the world.
“The way to come to here was not easy,” Kim said, sitting at a table with Mr Trump. “The old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward but we overcame all of them and we are here today.”
As they sat down for their one-on-one meeting, the US leader predicted a “terrific relationship” with Kim. “We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt,” Mr Trump said amid smiles and backslapping that belied the decades of tension and blood spilled between the two Cold War foes.
The meeting would have been unthinkable last year when tensions spiralled in the region over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes as it raced towards the goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.
For both men, the summit, the first between leaders of North Korea and the United States, is likely to be a defining moment of their careers.
For Mr Trump, cutting a deal to end the North Korean nuclear threat with his approach to Kim, in defiance of the US security establishment’s long-held ways of dealing with the North, would be a success unmatched by any predecessors.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 12, 2018
Although the outcome of the summit is uncertain, Trump and Kim could agree on a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, the fire in which his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, forged the North Korean state. The war was concluded with a truce, not a peace treaty, but a treaty will also have to include China, which was party to the armistice.
The young Kim is reviled as an international pariah over the 2017 murder in Malaysia of his half-brother, and the execution of hundreds of officials, including his uncle, for suspected disloyalty.
But he will win legitimacy with the handshake.
A successful summit could also herald momentous changes in the security landscape of northeast Asia, in a similar way to how the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 changed Europe.
For China, peace on the Korean peninsula would benefit regional development, especially that of its northeastern rustbelt.
While China has broadly supported the summit, it will want to protect its interests. North Korea has always been a useful buffer between China and U.S. forces in South Korea.
Japan will also be watching with ambivalence – happy to see the sabre-rattling ending but worried its security might be sacrificed in Trump’s rush to neutralise the North Korean threat to the United States.
Three weeks ago, the summit seemed doomed.
Mr Trump said on May 24 he was scrapping it after threats by North Korea to pull out over what it saw as confrontational remarks by US officials demanding unilateral disarmament.