Even before Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands for the first time on the steps of the Capella hotel in Singapore this morning (June 12), another iconic photo from the historic summit was already circulating—and it didn’t involve either man.
That’s the display of a row of American and North Korean flags side by side at the summit site, a previously unimaginable sight. Analysts now worry that the flag visuals will be used by Pyongyang to tell people the US and North Korea are peers. For Kim, that’s already a gigantic win on behalf of his ostracized state, without giving up a thing.
As Quartz previously wrote, the gift of images like these is usually kept in reserve, for after the thorny stuff has been wrangled:
The reason a US president has never met a North Korean leader is that the US and North Korea have been, and continue to be, at war. Since 1953, a ceasefire has made that conflict largely symbolic, with suffering limited to South Koreans killed in provocative strikes, and the North Koreans who suffer in a gulag state or die fleeing it.
In international diplomacy, the leader-to-leader meeting is the highest level of commitment available. No prior White House would send the president into a summit that has not been pre-scripted with guaranteed results. Should there be no agreement, there is no face-saving blame to be put on negotiators, and little room left for diplomacy.
After the handshake in front of the flags, the two leaders had a brief talk in front of the cameras, before they moved to their closed-door one-on-one session, to be followed by a larger meeting including their top advisers, and a work lunch.
Kim, through a translator, told Trump that it “has not been easy to get here” and that “the old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles, but we have overcome them and we are here today.” Trump said he is confident the meeting will be a “tremendous success” and that “we will have a tremendous relationship, I have no doubt.”
He then gave the dictator a thumb-up.