Trump says he will size up Kim Jong-un ‘within the first minute’

US President Donald Trump predicted Saturday that he will know almost immediately when meeting Kim Jong-un whether the North Korean leader is serious about negotiating a nuclear deal, suggesting his intuition is enough to size up the leader of the world’s most opaque authoritarian regime.

“Within the first minute, I’ll know. My touch, my feel – that’s what I do,” Trump said during a news conference in Quebec as he prepared to depart the Group of Seven summit en route to Singapore, where he is expected to meet Kim on Tuesday.

“You know the way they say you know if you like somebody in the first five seconds?” he added. “Well, I think very quickly I’ll know whether something good is going to happen. I think I’ll also know whether it will happen fast.”

Trump’s remarks came two days after he said he did not need to do a lot of preparation ahead of the historic summit because the interpersonal relationship between the two leaders would be the more important factor.

Foreign policy analysts have said that Kim is likely to attempt to get Trump to agree on mostly symbolic steps, including a peace deal to formally end the Korean war, while biding time on significant commitments toward denuclearisation.

“I think that he’s going to surprise on the upside, very much on the upside, we’ll see,” Trump said in Quebec of Kim. “But this has ever been done, never been tested.”

As he has in recent days, however, the president sought to tamp down expectations, after once having pledged to demand that Kim rapidly turn over his nuclear arsenal.

Instead, Trump acknowledged, the summit is unlikely to achieve a breakthrough, stating that at minimum he would like to “start a dialogue” with Kim.

“I’d like to accomplish more than that,” Trump said. But if not, “at least we’ll have met each other, we’ll have seen each other; hopefully, we’ll have liked each other. We’ll start that process … But I think it will take a little bit of time.”

Trump alluded to the historic nature of the event during his remarks in Quebec, calling it a “one-time shot” and urging Kim to seize the moment to “do something very positive for his people, for himself and for his family.”

Kim has the “opportunity the likes of which, almost, if you look into history, very few people have ever had,” Trump said. “He can take that nation, with those great people, and truly make it great.”

Yet it remains unclear whether the two sides are attempting to reach commitments on tangible, confidence-boosting measures or trying instead to find consensus on broader shared principles to frame future negotiations.

Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s father who died in 2011, violated past international deals aimed at curbing the North’s nuclear programme and ballistic missiles by launching new weapons tests.

While the Trump administration has called for complete, verifiable denuclearisation on a swift timetable, Pyongyang has signalled it expects a more incremental approach in which it receives reciprocal benefits along the way.

Trump suggested he will not be afraid to improvise.

“I have a clear objective,” Trump said, “but I have to say it’s going to be something that will always be spur of the moment. You don’t know. This has not been done before.”

While Trump’s allies have called his unpredictability a negotiating strength that keeps his opponents off balance, some White House aides have expressed concern that the president will not heed talking points in his briefing materials.

While US intelligence officials know little about Kim and his regime, which tightly controls news and information in North Korea, analysts said Kim is sure to be studying Trump’s large cache of public statements for clues as to how to negotiate with him.

Trump expressed frustration that some analysts have said Kim already has bested him simply by getting him to agree to a summit, noting that the regime released three American prisoners last month.

“The haters say, ‘Oh, you’re giving him a meeting!’ Give me a break,” Trump said. “Obviously, what has been done before hasn’t worked. We shouldn’t be in this position.”

After a long flight aboard Air Force One that will include a refuelling stop, the president is expected to arrive in Singapore on Sunday evening. – SCMP


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