June 12 Singapore summit with Kim is back on: Trump

US President Donald Trump speaks following a meeting from a North Korean delegation on the South Lawn of the White House on June 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.
US President Donald Trump speaks following a meeting from a North Korean delegation on the South Lawn of the White House on June 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.PHOTO: AFP

S'pore will play role to be good host, working to ensure smooth meeting, says Ng Eng Hen

It is all systems go: United States President Donald Trump will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore, under the full glare of the world and the roughly 3,000 journalists who are expected to converge on the island state.

Mr Trump made the surprise announcement shortly after receiving Mr Kim's right-hand man and former spy chief Kim Yong Chol at the White House, where the North Korean general handed the US President an unusually large letter from his leader in Pyongyang.

"We are going to deal, and we are really going to start a process," said Mr Trump to reporters on Friday, adding that the summit on June 12 may not immediately yield an agreement. "Remember what I say: We will see what we will see."

Mr Trump also dialled back on the rhetoric, eight days after abruptly cancelling the high-stakes summit because of Pyongyang's "open hostility", softening his signature tough stance against the reclusive regime.

"We're getting along, so it's not a question of maximum pressure," he said.

The upcoming summit figured prominently at the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue yesterday after Mr Trump's confirmation of the date. Defence chiefs, top officials and experts gathered here for the regional security forum wondered if the summit would be held in the same hotel.

AFFIRMATION OF OFFICIALS' WORK

Many have commented that without Singapore, we would not have progressed so far. I don't respond to these comments, I just take it as an affirmation of the work that our officials have done to get us this far.

SINGAPORE DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN
 

START OF A RELATIONSHIP

They (North Korea) want it. We think it's important. I think we would be making a big mistake if we didn't have it. I think we're going to have a relationship and it will start on June 12.

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

When asked by The Sunday Times how far along preparations were for the summit, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Singapore would play its role to be a good host, and that various agencies are working hard to ensure the historic meeting would go smoothly.

"Many have commented that without Singapore, we would not have progressed so far. I don't respond to these comments, I just take it as an affirmation of the work that our officials have done to get us this far," said Dr Ng after he hosted a lunch for defence ministers, whom he asked for a show of hands about the upcoming talks.

"I asked them, despite all the caveats and some doubts, whether on balance this meeting between the US and DPRK (North Korea) was positive, and an overwhelming majority thought so," he said.

"It's a constructive and even a concrete step forward. Let's just hope and plan, and if it takes place, let's hope for the best."

Dr Ng also confirmed that Singapore will bear the security cost of hosting the summit, adding: "It's a cost we're willing to bear to play a small part."

North Korea's immediate neighbours took the news of the confirmed summit differently.

South Korea's and Japan's defence ministers, in a conference session on de-escalating the North Korean crisis yesterday, stood on opposite ends of the debate.

While South Korea defence chief Song Young Moo suggested giving Mr Kim the benefit of the doubt, his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera sounded a more cautious tone, warning the audience of Pyongyang having previously reneged on a promise to denuclearise.

Yesterday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis made it clear during his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue that the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea was the objective.

He also said the US could withdraw its troops in South Korea if the upcoming talks go well, but it will not be "on the table nor should it be" at the Singapore summit.

"Any discussion about the number of US troops in the Republic of Korea is subject to the Republic of Korea's invitation to have them there, and the discussions between the United States and the Republic of Korea, separate and distinct from the negotiations that are going on with DPRK," said Mr Mattis during a question-and-answer segment.

"Obviously if the diplomats can do their work, if we can reduce the threat, if we can restore confidence-building measures with something verifiable, then, of course, these kinds of issues can come up subsequently between two sovereign states (South Korea and the US)," said the Pentagon chief.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 03, 2018, with the headline 'June 12 Singapore summit with Kim is back on: Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe