President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un took a historic first step toward ending decades of enmity between the U.S. and North Korea, shaking hands to start a summit between two adversaries that only last year had seemed on the brink of nuclear war.
With somber expressions, the two men opened their highly anticipated meeting in Singapore shortly after 9 a.m. local time Tuesday — 9 p.m. Monday in New York — marking the first face-to-face encounter between a sitting U.S. president and a leader of North Korea. They then appeared to warm up, smiling as they chatted after their initial handshake.
“We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt,” Trump said in brief remarks to reporters. He and Kim were seated with a small round table between them and their flags behind them.
“It was not an easy journey,” Kim said, speaking through a translator. “We’ve had a past that stopped us from advancing, and wrong behaviors and practices sometimes closed our eyes and ears, but we’ve overcome those to come to this point.”
For each leader, the meeting represents a major gamble, and its outcome will be dissected around the globe for a sense of whether one of the world’s greatest security threats — Kim’s nuclear arsenal — can be solved. The talks could also bring an end to the almost the seven-decade-old Korean War.
For more on the Trump-Kim summit, watch Fortune’s video:
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The fate of the summit may very well turn on the first moments they spend alone with each other. Trump has said that he expects to know “within the first minute” of their meeting if Kim is serious about giving up his nuclear weapons. They will be joined later by their staffs for an expanded meeting and a working lunch.
Drama surrounding the event heightened in the hours before the leaders greeted each other, as the two sides shifted their schedules. After Kim made clear that he would be leaving Singapore by the end of the day, the White House announced that Trump would depart in the evening after delivering a news conference at about 4 p.m. local time.
Kim Jong Un Surprises Crowds in Singapore With Late-Night Tour
Trump has said that he would be willing to stay longer and potentially stretch the summit out over two days depending on how talks were proceeding. White House spokesman Raj Shah said Trump’s schedule change was not in response to Kim but instead due to the quick-moving negotiations between the two sides.
Top aides to Trump and Kim spent much of the night trying to negotiate terms for the summit and any potential statement that will come out of it, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
Hours before the meeting’s start Trump tweeted that final staff meetings between the two sides “are going well and quickly…but in the end, that doesn’t matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!”
“The fact that I am having a meeting is a major loss for the U.S., say the haters & losers,” Trump tweeted about three hours before the summit. “We have our hostages, testing, research and all missle launches have stoped, and these pundits, who have called me wrong from the beginning, have nothing else they can say! We will be fine!”
A Rough Guide to North Korea’s Many Promises to Abandon Nukes
Trump wants the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Kim is seeking a security guarantee — possibly including a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War — and the removal of the U.S.’s nuclear umbrella protecting allies South Korea and Japan.
Kim has rejected calls to unilaterally give up his weapons in return for economic aid, and instead has proposed a step-by-step denuclearization process. His public statements and state-run media indicate he wants a deal to ease sanctions, but that he won’t give up his nuclear weapons until he feels safe enough to retain power without them.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday drew a firm line, saying the U.S. plans to keep sanctions in place until North Korea eliminates its nuclear weapons capability. Complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization, he told reporters, “is the only outcome that the United States will accept.”
Yet the top U.S. diplomat added Trump is ready to offer “unique” guarantees to ease the regime’s concerns about giving up a nuclear arsenal that provides a deterrent against foreign adversaries while also serving as a key point of national pride.
The summit has drawn thousands of journalists to the Asia city-state. On Monday night, Kim took a surprise late-night tour of downtown Singapore, strolling along the harbor as reporters and residents shouted his name and snapped pictures with their phones.
Just meeting with Trump will be a diplomatic accomplishment for Kim, who has emerged from isolation in recent months and rapidly increased his outreach to other world leaders.
By sitting down with an American president — a longtime goal of North Korea’s government — Kim’s regime is advancing its effort to establish its “reputation, respect, and credibility as a nuclear weapon state,” said Michael J. Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Top members of Trump’s administration have said that the North Koreans wouldn’t receive any benefits before taking steps to denuclearize — wary of falling into the same predicament that doomed previous agreements with the rogue regime.
But North Korea now deems itself “a nuclear state,” and insists the U.S. must end its “nuclear threats and blackmail” as a precondition for denuclearization, according to a statement last month from First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kye Gwan.