Kim and Trump on their way to Singapore for historic summit

Kim and Trump on their way to Singapore for historic summit

President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are on their way to Singapore for what is shaping up to be a historic summit between the leaders of two countries that have been sworn enemies for more than six decades.

Kim Jong Un’s private plane, a 39-year-old Soviet-made Ilyushin 62, left Pyongyang’s international airport at about 10 a.m. local time Sunday morning, according to flight tracking data. That should put him in Singapore in the mid- to late afternoon. 

This trip is the furthest the third-generation North Korean leader has traveled since he took power at the end of 2011, and it also has the highest stakes. 

Kim has embarked on a flurry of diplomacy this year, holding two meetings with South Korean president Moon Jae-in and two with China’s Xi Jinping, leading to this first-ever summit between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president.

After overseeing rapid advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile technology last year, Kim now appears to be turning his attention to his country’s economy and particularly to getting rid of the international sanctions that are hampering its growth.

The nuclear program has enabled Kim to project confidence, analysts say, and he is now trying to metamorphose from nuclear-armed tyrant into responsible international statesman.

“He is aspirational and sees a different future for North Korea, now that he’s in a position to embark upon, and hopefully achieve, the grand bargain long sought by Kim Il Sung,” said Kenneth Dekleva, a former State Department diplomat and psychiatrist who has profiled the two most recent North Korean leaders. 

Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather, founded the North Korean state in 1948 with the backing of China and the Soviet Union.

Meeting Trump will enable Kim Jong Un to achieve status on the world stage as a de-facto nuclear power, Dekleva said.

But first, Kim is due to meet with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after his arrival Sunday. 

Three planes departed from Pyongyang on Sunday morning. The first was a cargo plane believed to be carrying vehicles and supplies for the North Korean leader.

The second was an Air China Boeing 747 that landed in Pyongyang at about 7:30 a.m. and departed about an hour later. That plane, reportedly used by the Chinese government to carry high-level officials, appeared to be carrying North Korean cadres who would form Kim’s delegation. 

Then the Soviet-made Il-62, officially called “Chammae-1” after North Korea’s national bird but sometimes jokingly referred to as “Air Force Un,” departed. Kim took this plane when he traveled to the Chinese city of Dalian in May to meet President Xi Jinping, a trip that was viewed as a practice run for the Singapore journey.

The plane has a maximum range of 6,200 miles, putting Singapore, which is 3,000 miles from Pyongyang, easily within reach.

Trump, meanwhile, is expected to arrive in Singapore at about 8:30 p.m. local time and is due to meet with Lee on Monday.

Security has been tightened around the hotels where Trump and Kim are staying, and around the resort island of Sentosa, where the summit will be held.

Departing from Canada, where he had been attending a G-7 meeting, Trump signaled that he had high hopes that Kim would deliver.

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

Trump had been trying to lower expectations, saying that he wanted to at a minimum “start a dialogue” with Kim and acknowledging that this would be a process, not a quick diplomatic success.

The summit will tackle of the thorny issue of North Korea’s nuclear program, a problem that has bedeviled diplomats for a quarter-century and has become only more difficult with the astonishing advances of last year.

But the concerted efforts to reduce expectations suggested that the summit would go smoothly, said Joseph Yun, who was the State Department’s pointman on North Korea until February.

“If it’s just a meet=and=greet — a ‘getting to know you’ as Trump would say — then it will still be welcome in the region, in Singapore and in South Korea and in Japan,” said Yun.

But the U.S. would be seeking a commitment to denuclearization — North Korea agreeing to get rid of all its fissile material and intercontinental ballistic missiles — while Kim would want to a pledge to end the Korean War and assurances about his security.

“If we get that, we will have a successful summit kicking off the diplomatic process,” Yun said.

The Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, in 1953, and that agreement was signed by North Korea and China on one side, and the United States on behalf of the United Nations on the other.

Singapore’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, returning from a five-day trip to Washington and Pyongyang, said he saw “sincerity” on both sides to make the summit a success.

“I see a desire, a willingness to escape the constraints that have applied for the last seven decades — so with goodwill and creativity, let’s see what they come up with,” he told reporters after flying from Pyongyang to Beijing Saturday.

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