At 9 a.m. Tuesday local time, President Donald Trump met with the North Korean Supreme Leader in Singapore. It was the first time that the two had ever met, and video of Trump and Kim Jong Un shaking hands for the first time instantly became historical footage.
In the days and hours leading up to the moment, people around the world were on the edge of their seats. Never before had a sitting American president met with North Korean leadership, and regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it was truly a sight to behold.
Undoubtedly, the moment will evolve into one of the keynote events in Trump's presidency, whether the summit actually turns out to be successful or not. Up until Tuesday, the only American presidents to meet a North Korean supreme leader were those which had already left office — including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. For decades, North Korean leadership had attempted to finagle itself a meeting with a sitting U.S. president, but until 2018, all had declined, or else sent someone else in his place.
It was not an easy ride to Singapore, however, where the two were intended to meet. Just weeks before June 12, the day of the summit, Trump announced that he was canceling his meeting with Kim, citing North Korea's "tremendous anger and open hostility" in a public letter conveying the change of plans.
However, almost as quickly as the meeting was canceled, it was back on again, and when Trump arrived in Singapore before the summit, he told reporters that he felt "very good" about the impending event.
Still, in the lead-up to the North Korean summit, the tone the meeting would take was unclear. CNN reported that aides had advised Trump against being overly friendly with the leader of the reclusive state. After all, the two had exchanged military threats back and forth only months prior. And the reason the meeting was happening at all was rather bleak: It was to discuss denuclearization.
For years, North Korea had leveraged its weapons program against international pressures. Yet, also for years, leadership had tested missiles and behaved unpredictably, a dangerous combination for a state with few allies and under strict international sanctions. The ultimate goal of the summit was to open the door to the eventual denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula. How far that door would open, and if it would open at all, was and remains impossible to predict.
The summit with the United States marked only the third time that Kim has left North Korea since assuming the position of supreme leader in 2011. The only other places he had been to were China and South Korea, the latter of which he visited in April. That visit took the world by surprise because it was also historic — he was the first North Korean leader to cross into South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953.
All of this is to say that Kim seems to be signaling a potential shift away from how North Korea has long interacted with the international community. But still, like the discussion surrounding denuclearization, how far he will be willing to change remains unclear.
Video footage of Trump and Kim's handshake provided few clues. The two approached each other, Trump from the right and Kim from the left, they shook hands, Trump placed his hand on Kim's arm, and they appeared to exchange a few words. What, exactly, was said was not immediately clear from the footage. They then paused for a few front-facing photos and exited together, off to engage in their first ever face-to-face conversation.