Trump, Kim launch historic Singapore summit with a handshake

SINGAPORE, June 12 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands and smiled as they started a historic summit on Tuesday, just months after they traded insults and threats of nuclear war.

For both men, the summit, the first between leaders of North Korea and the United States, is likely to be a defining moment of their careers.

The meeting would have been unthinkable last year when tensions spiraled in the region over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs as it raced toward the goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.

Trump vowed to prevent that happening and threatened North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen." He mocked Kim as "little rocket man" on a suicide mission.

Kim denounced the U.S. president as the "mentally deranged U.S. dotard" who would be "tamed ... with fire."

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Scenes from Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's summit in Singapore
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Scenes from Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's summit in Singapore
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (R) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visits The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
U.S. President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly attend a lunch with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and officials at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
US President Donald Trump (R) gestures as he meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired American professional basketball player Dennis Rodman speaks to the press as he arrives at Changi International airport ahead of US-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 11, 2018. - North Korea's Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump meet on June 12 for an unprecedented summit in an attempt to address the last festering legacy of the Cold War, with the US President calling it a 'one time shot' at peace. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
The motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan takes a selfie with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a visit in Merlion Park in Singapore, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 11, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (R) to attend a bilateral meeting at the Istana, Singapore on June 11, 2018. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Republic of Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, center, tours the Esplanade in Singapore on Monday, June 11, 2018. Kim smiled and waved to a cheering crowd during a surprise late-night tour of Singapore on the eve of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong walk together during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, center, tours the Esplanade in Singapore on Monday, June 11, 2018. Kim smiled and waved to a cheering crowd during a surprise late-night tour of Singapore on the eve of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump is pictured during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) poses with US President Donald Trump (R) after taking part in a signing ceremony at the end of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump holds up a document signed by him and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - 2018/06/11: President Trump leaves the Sinagpore Istana after meeting with with Singaporean PM Lee Heisn Loong ahead of Trump-Kim Summit. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore as both leaders arrived in the Southeast Asian city-state on Sunday ahead of the landmark summit. (Photo by Sion Ang/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (R) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un (3rd from left) leaves the Singapore's Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands on night before summit on June 11, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (R) walks with US President Donald Trump (L) during a break in talks at their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) walks along the Jubilee bridge during a tour of some of the sights on June 11, 2018 in Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled in Singapore for June 12 as a small circle of experts have already been involved in talks towards the landmark summit in the city-state. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answers questions at a press briefing June 11, 2018 in Singapore. Pompeo answered a range of questions related primarily to the historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled for tomorrow June 12 in Singapore. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: National Security Council press spokesman Robert Palladino (4th R) answers questions from reporters at the White House press filing center June 11, 2018 in Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore as both leaders arrived in the Southeast Asian city-state on Sunday ahead of the landmark summit. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L6) participates in a working luncheon hosted by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana, Singapore on June 11, 2018. Officials from both delegations also attended the luncheon. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Republic of Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: In this handout provided by the Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore, U.S. President Donald Trump (R) with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (L) on June 11, 2018 in Singapore, Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled in Singapore for June 12 as the world awaits for the landmark summit in the Southeast Asian city-state. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information Singapore/via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) as they sit down for their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed police officers patrol outside JW Marriot South Beach Hotel, a Marriott Group property, in Singapore, on Monday, June 11, 2018. Trump�met Prime Minister�Lee�Hsien Loong�at the city-state's presidential palace for more than two hours Monday for discussions that were expected to include everything from summit preparations to the U.S.'s tariff threats. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bodyguards of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un arrive at The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Police officers walk around the perimeter of the Capella Hotel on Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
The motorcade transporting U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
U.S. President Donald Trump and his delegation have lunch with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and officials at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Official cameramen follow the motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
The motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Police stand guard outside the Capella Hotel in Singapore, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. President�Donald Trump�plans to shake hands and have lunch with North Korean leader�Kim Jong Un, kicking off a historic summit on Tuesday between two adversaries that only last year had seemed at the brink of nuclear war. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L) leaves after his meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (not seen) as part of the US-North Korea summit in Sentosa island, on June 12, 2018 at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump waves his hand as he leaves after his meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (not seen) as part of the US-North Korea summit in Sentosa island, on June 12, 2018 at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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But once North Korea conducted an underground test of a thermonuclear bomb last September, Trump began taking Kim more seriously.

Trump can look back to President Richard Nixon's 1972 trip to China, when the ardent anti-communist defied conventional wisdom to meet Chairman Mao Zedong, irrevocably shifting the Cold War balance and setting China on a path to opening up.

Trump and his senior officials have in recent weeks been referring to Kim as "Chairman."

For Trump, cutting a deal to end the North Korean nuclear threat with his approach to Kim, in defiance of the U.S. security establishment's long-held ways of dealing with the North, would be a success unmatched by any predecessors.

It would justify his supporters' faith in his art of deal-making and allow him to repudiate the naysayers with a foreign-policy success he will be able to hail. Some supporters have said he could win the Nobel Peace Prize.

For Kim, about half Trump's age and representing the third generation of North Korea's ruling dynasty, the summit affords both him and his long-isolated country the international legitimacy his father and grandfather could only dream of.

North Korea has faced years of economic sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs since it conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.

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Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore
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Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore
SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - JUNE 10: In this handout provided by the Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) welcomed by Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (2nd from Right) at Changi Airport in Singapore on June 10, 2018 in Singapore, Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled in Singapore for June 12 as the world awaits for the landmark summit in the Southeast Asian city-state. (Photo by Terence Tan for Ministry of Communications and Information Singapore/via Getty Images)
Armed police officers patrol outside the Shangri-La hotel where US President Donald Trump will stay ahead of the US-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 10, 2018. - Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump will meet on June 12 for an unprecedented summit in an attempt to address the last festering legacy of the Cold War, with the US President calling it a 'one time shot' at peace. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP) (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the North Korean media, center, stands near a police barricade outside the St. Regis hotel, a Marriott Group property, in Singapore, on Sunday, June 10, 2018. Kim�Jong Un�arrived in Singapore on Sunday, kicking off a landmark trip by the once-reclusive North Korean leader ahead of his historic summit with U.S. President�Donald Trump. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean security personnel run next to a motorcade believed to be carrying North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore June 10, 2018, ahead of the summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
A crowd is seen near the hotel as North Korea's Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore June 10, 2018, ahead of the summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
A motorcade believed to be carrying North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un travels past in Singapore June 10, 2018, ahead of the summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
A vehicle believed to be carrying North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un travels past in Singapore June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 10: South Koreans watch on a screen reporting the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrives in Singapore at the Seoul Railway Station on June 10, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled in Singapore for June 12 as the world awaits for the landmark summit in the Southeast Asian city-state. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana in Singapore June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un meets with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana in Singapore June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
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'TRUMP MODEL'

Trump and Kim could agree on a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, the fire in which his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, forged the North Korean state. The war was concluded with a truce, not a peace treaty, but a treaty will also have to include China, which was party to the armistice.

The young Kim is reviled as an international pariah over the 2017 murder in Malaysia of his half-brother, and the execution of hundreds of officials, including his uncle, for suspected disloyalty.

But he will win legitimacy with the handshake.

A successful summit could also herald momentous changes in the security landscape of northeast Asia, in a similar way to how the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 changed Europe.

For China, peace on the Korean peninsula would benefit regional development, especially that of its northeastern rustbelt.

While China has broadly supported the summit, it will want to protect its interests. North Korea has always been a useful buffer between China and U.S. forces in South Korea.

Japan will also be watching with ambivalence - happy to see the saber-rattling ending but worried its security might be sacrificed in Trump's rush to neutralize the North Korean threat to the United States.

Three weeks ago, the summit seemed doomed.

Trump said on May 24 he was scrapping it after threats by North Korea to pull out over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials demanding unilateral disarmament.

North Korea had earlier criticized U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who had called for North Korea to quickly give up its nuclear arsenal in a deal that would mirror Libya's abandonment of its program for weapons of mass destruction.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed by NATO-backed militants in 2011 after halting his nascent nuclear program and North Korea has long rejected any suggestion of a Libya model.

Trump later dismissed the Libya model. Instead his spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, spoke of "the President Trump model."

"He’s going to run this the way he sees fit," Sanders told Fox News.

(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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